Illegal Use of Hands at American Blues Theater | Theater review
James Still’s awkward, underwhelming new work explores the American Dream via high-school football.
“Shit happens,” pontificates retired referee Wallace (Dennis Zacek) to a couple of middle-aged lost souls who’ve wandered into his living room in the middle of the night. The blasé, platitude-driven sentiment carries through Emmy-winning playwright James Still’s awkward, underwhelming and halfhearted new work, which explores disillusionment with the American Dream through one of its most iconic and trodden symbols: high-school football.
In a pathetic attempt to regain teenage glory—or at least a young person’s naive perception of glory—a bitter, cartoonishly misogynistic townie (Howie Johnson) recruits his ex-quarterback buddy (a strong Steve Key) to cheer on the alma mater’s homecoming game, crash the school dance and rescue their dusty second-place trophy from the depths of back-shelf apathy. Turns out, the game is a slaughterhouse, the dance is a dud, and the trophy flies through the elderly ref’s door window at the hands of the belligerent goof in what appears to be a mix of lame inciting action and flat symbolism.
From there, Still’s play evolves into an unhappy marriage of realism, three-camera sitcom zingers and abstract non sequiturs (“Breathe if you’re horny!”) that appear to pain director Sandy Shinner’s cast as much as they confound her audience. Illegal Use of Hands uses surreal language to hide behind the guise of profundity and justify its lackadaisically mysterious and dead-end subplots. As Wallace says, “Shit happens”—but it would be better if shit, or something, did happen.