Anew play by Ron Simonian draws special interest since the success of his first play, “Thanatos,” over a year ago brought a promising new writer into the legit arena. This newest work, “Arms and Legs,” hews to Simonian’s penchant for drawing broad-scale humor from a tale of violence and moral decay.
The story of a serial killer who is maneuvered by TV and motion pictures into becoming a public idol pushes satire and absurdity to the extreme. Yet it draws a string of laughs from the concept that a subject so vile could take such a weird turn. If far-fetched, it unfortunately has a hint of truth, considering the hyped-up public interest in the trials of the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson. The play scores as topical and timely, as well as outright funny.
The focus is on Bobby (Matt Rapport), who’s in his early 20’s and holed up at home surrounded by police after admitting to 22 killings. Before Bobby can be taken away, Parker (Terry O’Reagan), a producer for Paramount, gains admission to the house by helicopter and signs Bobby to a picture deal. A flashback tells of Bobby’s birth to trashy parents who are vague about moral values. Seems Bobby is just a loving son who loves people — some of them so much he wants, literally, to keep a part of them.
Flavia (Celia Grinwald), newly immigrant, loves the U.S. and wants to stay here. She sees marriage — with Bobby, fully unaware of his penchant, or reputation — as the solution. Bobby never has thought of marriage, but Flavia, with her beautiful arms and legs, interests him. Flavia fares better than the other victims, becoming a living basket case. Even then, she steadfastly proclaims her love for Bobby, writes a book and signs autographs with a pen in her teeth.
Under Parker’s guidance, Bobby is found not guilty in a trial aping the O.J. affair. Bobby goes on to host a TV talkshow and “Saturday Night Live,” and even runs for the Senate. He never is made to atone for his crimes.
Director Julie Nessen keeps the pace lively, telling the story in a series of scenes on a single set without intermission. The cast of established and veteran actors are skillful at holding the pace, and all but Rapport double roles. As Bobby, the actor almost imperceptibly seques from the dumb but loving “innocent” young man to the personable talkshow host. But the show practically belongs to O’Reagan, excellent as the flamboyant film producer and heartless, garrulous attorney, Parker. He is ably abetted by Jan Rogge, first as the trashy Mom, and later as the polished but luckless prosecutor. Major plaudits also go to Phil Fiorini as Dad, Nora Denney as Grandma and Grinwald as Flavia.
The story content may be ghoulish, but the gore is strictly in dialogue, none depicted; it’s a comedy.