Thomas Burns Scully
- OnStage New York Critic
Sometimes I get emails from producers and press agents asking me to come and see Shakespeare, Miller and Chekhov. Sometimes I get invitations to shows called ‘The Disembodied Hand That Fisted Everyone to Death - The Musical!’ It’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing this job, I like the variety. Now, when someone sends you the title of a show like that, it has a lot to live up to. It’s a throwing down of the twin gauntlets of hilarity and eccentricity, and you’d better believe you have to live up to that. All this was running through my head as I sat down to watch this shlock-horror inspired piece at the PIT the other day, but, luckily, for me and for them, the show delivered on the title’s promise. This is the story of a rather fun musical about disembodied hands fisting people to death.
The show opens with a highly serious monologue. A representative of the cast po-facedly explaining how important and sincere this presentation is. Then the show begins proper, with two mad scientists in a lab, trying to bring a dead hand back to life. Their experiment appears to fail, but then, when they leave, the hand does indeed come to life. It escapes from the lab and proceeds to terrorize a frat house. In said frat house it begins fisting the occupants to death. This includes the usual pledges, invited sorority innocents (who may not be so innocent), and a black girl posing (surprisingly successfully) as a white guy. Songs are sung about love, loneliness, the inventor of the polio vaccine and, naturally, fisting. It’s all quite larky and silly.
It won’t surprise anyone in the know that this presentation has the ring of MST3K about it. I’m willing to put down money that creators Amanda D'Archangelis and Anderson Cook are fans. It is a clear parody of the improbable drive-in horror genre, and all the ridiculousness involved. The plot twists are dumb and predictable in various familiar and enjoyable ways. That in itself is funny, so the show passes its first essential hurdle with ease. However, that vaulted, it runs in to its second obstacle: the musical comedy aspect. So how do the songs fare? Pretty well, mostly. I wouldn’t call any of them especially memorable, but they function well within the story to move the plot along, and campily and goofily reveal the play’s purposeful shallowness. Essentially, the conceit of parodying hack movie-making extends to the joke of parodying hack musical-making too. To that end there are all the songs you would expect in a cheap musical: a torch song, a love ballad, a lament, etc. Except they’re all about fisting. ‘Disembodied Hand’s parody-logic is faultless, and so the show hangs together perfectly, doing everything you could reasonably expect it to comedically.
One of the things I love about shows at the PIT is that the performers (at least in the shows I’ve seen) all feel like they want to be there and are enjoying what they are doing. Something like that allows you to forgive certain shortcomings in bad theatre, and enhances the experience of good theatre. The cast here are no exception to that, they all seem to be having a ball. Ryan Andrews as the scientist Dr. Meyers is hamming it up like a toasted sandwich. His assistant, Kleiner, played by Anderson Cook is charming and naive, with an unforced stupidity that brings in the laughs. Aby James, who seems to be this show’s Felicia Day, gets surprisingly raunchy as sorority-ite Vivian and throws gusto into singing gleefully about how much she wants to be fisted to death. The greatest props, however, go to Connor Wright playing the titular hand. That is not an easy part to play. Aside from the extensive emotional and physical character preparation I’m sure was required, he spends the entire show with his whole body, save his hand, inside a black morph suit. He even has to sing through it. That alone is worth a round of applause, the fact that he does it well heralds roses. The rest of the cast are also terrific fun, each with their own moments in the spotlight, but alas, this paragraph is already running long and we must move on. Save to say, if you’re reading this: high five, guys.
I suppose the only thing I have left to say about ‘Disembodied Hand’ is that it is a hedgehog, not a fox. It is very good at one thing, and plays to all it’s strengths, but there isn’t a lot of variety to it. Which is not to say that it’s bad, I think I’ve made it quite clear up until now that I think it’s a highly enjoyable show. But, there isn’t much beyond that. It plays its central joke perfectly, and takes it to its logical illogical conclusion, but it never transcends its own humble origins. There’s never a moment where you find yourself feeling something you never expected to, you never suddenly care about the characters, or get any feeling of pathos. Yes, that’s not what the show’s about, it’s about an amusing hand fisting weird people to death. It does that brilliantly and it’s funny as hell, but if this show were to take it to the next level and be a ‘Kapow-i Gogo’ that’s what it would do. So it’s Mel Brooks, not Woody Allen. But that’s still high praise.
So if you are looking for a good time, call the PIT and ask for the hand. ‘The Disembodied Hand That Fisted Everyone to Death: The Musical!’ is a perfect essential parody that works brilliantly within its own niche. It never rises above that niche, but by god does it mine all the gold out of that mountain. Best viewed with friends, alcohol and all sensibility left at the door. It’s a ridiculous hour of campy horror silliness, watch it like you’d watch ‘Plan Nine From Outer Space’ and you will have all the fun in the world. This one comes highly recommended for the naughty child in all of us. Give it a look.
‘The Disembodied Hand That Fisted Everyone To Death’ runs at the PIT through to June 17th playing irregular days. Full show schedule and links to ticketing available at facebook.com/DisembodiedHandFisted. Follow them on Facebook.
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
Follow him on Facebook (as Thomas Burns Scully), and on Twitter (@ThomasDBS)