Corey Dargel’s Removable Parts: A Series of Love Songs About Voluntary Amputation begins on a uniquely distressing note. The bald-headed, suit-clad Dargel steps onstage and announces, “In putting together these songs, I read hundreds of blogs and chat room conversations by voluntary amputees.” A show based on blogs and chat rooms—has a first line ever inspired less confidence? Happily, Dargel soon stops talking and starts singing. If his monologues appear clumsy, his songs are not.
Though the tune “All of Me” is heard several times, in Dargel’s original compositions he mostly avoids reducing voluntary amputation to a metaphor. Those who suffer from BIID, or Body Integrity Identity Disorder, may have various reasons for wanting an arm or a leg lopped off, but it’s very much about that specific arm or leg, not what it stands for. With the exception of “Why Not Take It All,” which concerns removing a heart, and “Brain,” his songs focus on the sort of amputations people actually seek. In “Hooked for Life,” Dargel imagines offing each arm below the shoulder: “I’ll be hooked for life/I’ll fling around these lifeless things/And maybe you’ll be my wife/Just so you can wear both of the rings.”
Shy, grinning, swimming in his too-big suit pants, Dargel is not a natural actor, nor is his talented accompanist Kathleen Supové. Director Emma Griffin has elected, smartly, not to smooth over this awkwardness. This lends their speeches an ungainliness, but also a brave and welcome vulnerability, which renders the songs especially poignant. Dargel and Supové may not be looking to rid themselves of hands or feet, yet neither seems entirely comfortable in his or her own skin. This makes the songs more affecting than amusing—at first Dargel receives lots of laughs, then fewer and fewer. However, Griffin might have encouraged Dargel to strip down his orchestrations—the piped-in drum machine beats and backing vocals may sound great on an album, but they’re unnecessary onstage.
New York theater can actually seem a lot like the Internet: No matter how outlandish your subject, you can bet that someone’s blogged it or staged it before. By our count, this makes the third piece on voluntary amputation in the last several years, following Ken Urban’s My Good Leg and Kyle Jarrow’s Armless. But this may well be the first BIID musical, and quite a successful one. We can only hope Dargel isn’t considering a laryngectomy.