“Still More of Our Parts: 6 New Plays About Disability in 70 Minutes”
Presented by Theater Breaking Through Barriers
Review by Sydney Arndt
Seasoned and green playwrights Jerrod Bogard, Bekah Brunstetter, Bruce Graham, Samuel D. Hunter, Neil LaBute, and Lynn Manning come together to delve into the realities of disabled people in a sincere and shockingly hilarious collection of short plays. The Off-Broadway company is known for advancing the careers of disabled actors and artists by staging their work and casting them in roles that are difficult to land in commercial—and even other non-profit theaters. The festival was more than entertaining; it was empowering and a breath of ethical fresh air to see actual disabled actors playing the majority of the disabled characters. For this, they deserve a gold star in my book.
What struck me was how each playwright chose to either use disability as a theme or not. LaBute’s play “Call Back” was an awkwardly painful reunion of a macho male actor (Jonathan Todd Ross) who never called back a bitter female actor (Mary Theresa Archbold) after a one night-stand. What’s worse, he hardly even recognized her although she remembered him quite painstakingly. We come to realize the woman has a prosthetic arm. While she referred to it in one of her lines, her disability wasn’t integral to her character’s circumstance or story-line. In contrast, Manning’s play takes a different approach in “Playing the Card.” Actor Shawn Randall plays a well-dressed and self-sufficient blind man, who is suggested to “dumb it down” in order to qualify for access to transportation for the disabled. Manning’s play frictions against the stereotype of disabled bodies equating to helplessness while also smartly using this bias to their own advantage.
The final play of the evening, Hunter’s “Good Beer,” is a gem with superb acting and effortless dialogue. It depicts a blind-date set up through an online dating service. Actor David Harrell’s character is put-off by the fact that actor Shannon DeVido is in a wheel-chair. Despite her attractively charming nature and witty personality, the jerkish David can’t look past it. Just before the date smolders into a cruel and twisted ending, we discover that David has insecurities of his own to conquer. This is one instance when “It’s not you, it’s me” is actually legitimate—and thank goodness!
I became intrigued by what the festival had to say “about disability” per the tagline of the show. But come to think of it, it’s more about the ability of humans to remain resilient regardless of the bodies they have. We can all see ourselves in these plays.
“Still More of Our Parts” continues through June 28th at Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, 212-239-6200, tbtb.org.