During medical school graduation, most physicians take a vow to “first, do no harm.” But Dr. Phillips (Robert Carr) finds this oath tested when frantic patient John (Sam Turich) begs him to do arms—to amputate both of John’s seemingly healthy limbs just below the shoulder. John dreams of “smooth stumps. Nubbins.” Kyle Jarrow’s affecting comedy Armless examines a hot new entry in the DSM-IV, Body Identity Integrity Disorder (BIID). While experts dispute its cause, BIID manifests as a desire to eliminate one or more limbs. Sufferers claim they won’t feel whole until relieved of the offending arms or legs.
Armless begins as John composes a voice-mail message for his unsuspecting wife, Anna (Colleen Quinlan). Recording and erasing, he tries several different tactics, attempting both candor and kindness. “You should probably be sitting down for this,” John recites. Then he thoughtfully pauses, adding, “I’ll wait until you’re sitting down.” Frustrated, he settles for, “I’m going away and you will never see me again—don’t get upset.”
In scenes like these, Jarrow builds on his reputation as a playwright both droll and humane. Just as in his improbably sweet A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, Jarrow negotiates ironic detachment with genuine sympathy. Though Armless doesn’t lack for farcical elements—slammed doors, mistaken identities, interrupted sex scenes—it embraces serious concerns, such as illness and trust. Director Ian Tresselt effectively balances these contradictory impulses, as does the four-person cast, which includes Gabrielle Reznek as a tart-tongued receptionist. (A power saw also makes a rousing cameo appearance.) While Jarrow leaves the future of John’s arms unresolved, the creators of Armless doubtless deserve a hand.