PLEASE NOTE: Refer to the right margin of this blog under "Sam White's Articles" to read the advance for this show in Oakland Press.
Theater is many things. It can entertain. It can be thought-provoking. It can also be heart-wrenching or controversial. And, then you have those pieces that are honest. This sort of theater doesn't feel like you're sitting in a room watching a cast of characters. It instead feels like you are experiencing real-life because of its honesty. Erman Jones' "Hands" is one of the latter.
The "work in progress" as he calls it is an autobiographical one-man show based on his life in rural Idaho. Like all of us, Jones’ life encompasses several layers. His include being one of nine children, growing up Mormon and being a son and a brother.
The show begins with Jones creating a tree of his life with chalk and tracings of his hands while whistling along to the classic tune “Nature Boy.” The different branches and hands on the drawing represent the cast of characters in his life from his mother, Sharon, to his step-father, Dean, to his brother, Steven and his biological father, Lew.
Jones paints a vivid picture of his childhood two-story Victorian-style home that serves as the backdrop for the show. He successfully expresses the features of the home from the color of the tile to the “yellow smelly loveseat.” You feel as if you are right there in that house sitting on that loveseat and smelling it.
He is a fearless performer using his entire body to tell the story of his mother’s whippings with a Hot Wheels racetrack to his fear of a scary black demon-like creature that followed him in his imagination throughout his adolescence.
Jones stands at about 6’2 or 6’3 and is still able to use his body with the fluidity and grace of a much smaller man. His physicality begins with his eyes which often illuminate the space when he speaks of his beloved mother. He shares that she has ‘been through a lot’ having taken care of nine children and being married to five very different men.
“Hands” is well-balanced and, as in life, takes you through the motions of happiness, melancholy, loss and plain silliness with details such as his step-father’s ability to be really “grosse” and farting at any given moment.
The most powerful scene of the show comes when Jones loses his older brother Steven. Both he and Steven struggled with their relationship with their biological father, Lew. He wasn’t around for much of their lives. In fact, Erman mentions that he does not have many memories of his father.
Jones plays the scene with such rawness and honesty that the piece of wood he carries symbolizing Steven’s coffin comes to reality. The tears in the actor’s eyes streamed down his face during this scene and the audience was still. We were all taken to the time when we lost someone we loved and cared deeply for. Everyone in the room shared that moment.
The show is well-written and played. It does, however, leave a small void. There is a curiosity as to how Jones dealt with his loss. I suppose, as this is real-life, he is still dealing with his loss as we are all dealing with ours.
The charm is that despite our differences whether they are gender, race, religious background or providence, we have all experienced loss. We remember that piece of furniture in the living room, we all have felt neglected and we’ve all had that parent whose bodily functions showed up at the wrong time. Jones’ candid and personal look into his life and his family reminds you that we all, despite our differences, are the same. We’re all family.
Jones will be relocating to Berlin this summer and developing “Hands.” Visit www.ermanjones.com to learn more about the Wayne State actor and his show.