Saturday, 22 February 2014

Second Hands – Fringe World (22 February 2014)

This jet black comedy begins as a standard relationship drama about the lives of two couples - one about to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary; the other a “cougar” and her photographer lover - until, almost casually, the question is asked about the married woman’s "new hands". Yes, this is a world where people can buy the hands of (usually) 16 year olds that have been cropped at the wrist. In fact, people can have multiple hands though more than 5 pairs is rare. The other woman, Patrice, actually works at an establishment that provides this service with a shipment of prize Sri Lankan hands due soon. She is appalled at the cheap hands her friend’s husband has purchased from a rival store. The 5th character in this dark tale is the photographer’s younger lover who desires ‘smaller hands’ and chooses those of an 8 year old from Patrice’s store.

Okay, yes, this is pretty twisted and clearly takes a hug swipe at Western consumerism, the exploitation of the third world, and the hollowness of vulgar status symbols. There is plenty of talk about families from places such as China and India donating their children’s hands so that they may live a better life. The quality of hands and how much they cost is also a point of discussion and conflict.

What I didn’t get though was the context of how this came to be – why it was that hands were coveted. How an industry, and a seemingly legal one at that, had grown up around this. How there seemed to be mass acceptance and that people with their original hands were somehow inferior. It just was. Yet this seemed ripe for exploration especially when there is talk about the ethics of what can only be described as a reprehensible business. Sure, I get that it’s an allegory but it didn’t seem rooted in anything believable that would have made it far more potent.

The thread that did interest me most was Patrice’s reaction to the request for the smaller hands. I had been waiting for opposition, for someone to decry the absurdity and cruelty of it all and here are the inklings of it. There is genuine disgust and later the character is speechless when admonishing the younger lover who points out they are readily available for sale in her very store. The hypocrisy bites hard.

This is taken further when Patrice (played by Georgia King) tells the story about a murder only a few streets away from where she lives with her philandering lover. The conclusion of that tale is truly shocking and her statement that “we’re all sick” really resonates. This is the end of that story strand and the penultimate scene of the play yet it felt more like a beginning.

It’s an uncomfortable tale, deliberately so, and certainly shocked the audience I was with. It makes its point in no uncertain terms but I was left with a sense that there is far more to explore in this dark, twisted world Jeffrey Jay Fowler has created.

Stars Austin Castiglione, Holly Garvey, Georgia King, Renee Newman-Storen and Nick Maclaine.

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