Piled high in some metaphorical junk heap of failed aspirations are thousands of movie scripts that never got made. So what. Unless one of those scripts is by Tennessee Williams. “One Arm, ” an atmospheric downward spiral about a onetime boxer reduced to street hustler, was originally published with a collection of short stories in 1948. Not quite twenty years later, Williams wrote the screen adaptation—and no one in Hollywood would touch it. The script just kind of disappeared, as these things do; an echo of the dare it once was. Playwright and theater director Moises Kaufman (“I Am My Own Wife”) must have pretty good ears. In a three-way collaboration between Kaufman’s New York-based Tectonic Theater Project and Chicago’s Steppenwolf and About Face Theatres, Williams’ screenplay is brought to life in a noirish combination of stage and cinema. It is, literally, a staged version of the movie that never was. A narrator sits off to the side and reads out scene headings— “Dissolve to exterior, night”—as the story gradually unfolds. Once a naval boxer with the Pacific Fleet, the young stud Ollie (Reynaldo Rosales, with requisite muscles and thudding charm) turns to cruising after a car accident mangles his right arm. In the parlance of porn, Ollie is gay for pay, and none too happy about it. He beats a path from San Diego to New Orleans to New York to Florida, leaving a series of besotted johns in his wake, including a few he treats to the business end of his fist. In New York, he allows himself a one-night stand with a fresh-faced gal he seduces with a lushly unforgettable line: “Let me put my tongue in that sweet mouth so you’ll stop crying.” Later, after a stag-reel shoot goes horribly wrong, Ollie finds himself isolated in a prison cell, parched for human contact. Profoundly pulpy, there is a wonderfully dated feel to Kaufman’s production—strippers with tassels on their tits, closet queens in fedoras, and lonesome Ollie standing there on the street corner in his wool hat and sailor-cut bellbottom pants. (Nina Metz)
“One Arm” plays at Steppenwolf, 1650 N. Halsted, (312)335-1650, through December 19.