-by Jamie Flowers
feature photo: Jennifer Byrne, John Siciliano, James Joseph O’Neil and Brittany Lee Hamilton by Mark Garvin
A Leg Up by Bristol Riverside Theatre’s Co-Producing Director Ken Kaissar is an irreverent, LGBTQ+, controversial, slapstick comedy. It’s a witty, modern love story with more love to go around than the characters can handle. With sex, science, politics, and really complicated relationships, A Leg Up is designed to interact with the conscious mind…come prepared to be blown away at this world premiere show!
It is difficult to tell you too much about A Leg Up without giving away the plot of this incredible farce. The story starts with a penniless business man who is trying to invest in the Knee to Toe XR- 3000 Helix (a prosthetic leg with a body-mind connection) while wooing a mistress and spending his wife’s considerable fortune (she recently came out as a lesbian). There is a myriad of other characters including an Ukrainian servant, an ex-priest who had his leg cut off by a chain saw, a senator who needs a prosthetic leg, and that’s just the beginning. Everyone has their own complex backstories. Kaissar expertly weaves together these stories to create a raucous ride that will make you laugh until your sides hurt.
For those of you who haven’t been to the Bristol Riverside Theatre, you are in for a real treat. The theatre is beautiful and nestled into the quaint village of Bristol with many bars and restaurants around for before or after show refreshments. The venue itself is perfect for A Leg Up. Because it is so big, a breathtaking two-story mansion was built on the stage. Jason Simms outdid himself in set design with one of the most beautiful sets this writer has ever seen. With such a large area to cover, Movement Consultant Carine Montbertrand was able to utilize the whole space for the slap stick comedy with the actors chasing each other all over the stage.
I also had the privilege of speaking with some of the cast and the director about their experiences and characters. Here’s what they have to say about their journey to A Leg Up…
From Joe Hogan (playing Senator Sam Wannamead)
“My character, Senator Sam Wannamead, is a politician with a secret. He’s trying to play both sides – politically and personally. And he’s an amputee. I love the surprise of quickly discovering that Sam’s secret can either destroy all he’s worked for or the truth can set him free, which I definitely relate to. There’s so much silliness and laughter in the play, but with heart and an inclusive cast, which I find fresh and exciting. I was cast pre-pandemic and my amputation was still pretty new so it’s been great fun to be onstage as the disabled person I am today.”
From Amy Kaissar (A Leg Up director & BRT’s Co-Producing Director)
While every new play goes through significant changes from early drafts through premiere, A Leg Up has gone through so many more incarnations than any other new play I’ve directed. I think that we started rehearsal on draft number 24 or something like that. And Ken [was] still making changes…the day before we open.
This is an incredibly technical form of theatre. It’s all about intersecting story lines and winding up a machine before you can let it loose. For each of the first 10 or so drafts, Ken was weaving new story lines through that machine. In addition to that, it took so many years to get to this premiere that the world changed and we had to keep up. When we did the initial reading, same-sex marriage was illegal, Prince Harry was a hard partying bachelor, Crimea was part of Ukraine, and Bill and Melinda Gates were married (all of which is actually relevant to the play). And then, to top it off, through the whole development process we were really lucky to be working with incredibly talented and funny actors, so we were also responding to what they were bringing into the room and shaping characters after them. Not to mention, we also have a number of friends serving as readers from the disability and queer communities to help us make sure that we were saying what we meant to be saying.
This show was incredibly challenging to direct, although it would be unfair to say that was unexpected. I’ll tell you what was actually easier than I expected was figuring out the physical comedy of the character Eddie, played by John Siciliano. Eddie is a leg amputee who is supposed to be wearing this breakthrough robotic prosthetic that’s malfunctioning and dragging him all over the place. But of course it’s all acting and John is using his real prosthetic which, of course, is NOT dragging him all over the stage. I had no idea how we were going to do that. People kept asking if we were building some magical robotic prop as if we had a team of robotic engineers and prosthetists at our disposal. Carine Montbertrand, our Movement Consultant, had all these charts mapping out the leg’s emotional life. But then John brought in all of these hilarious ideas and everyone else started jumping in with more, and good lord, the stuff everyone came up with is a riot. Jen Byrne, David Robbins, and John do this dance that, six weeks later, I’m still in stitches about every performance.”
John Siciliano (playing Edward)
My character is an ex-priest who got his leg chopped off with a chainsaw by his ex-wife Barbara. He still claims it was an accident, and wants to prove his undying passion for her and still thinks they can work it out. Apparently after this happened, he became a marketing strategist/leg model for The Miraculous Knee to-Toe XR-3000 with 3D Helix- a ground breaking invention for amputees by Ottobock. The problem is, the leg is supposed to interact with the conscious mind, but it’s interacting with the subconscious. It follows every impulse he has at times before he even knows it. That being said, it starts bucking and going into convulsions when he gets excited. This can bring problems as he starts kicking and bucking people.
I’ve been an amputee since 1993 and I know how the leg can have a mind of its own! It will wrestle with throw rugs, step on people’s feet and fall when you least expect. Well, that sounds like the leg in the show, so I had to read for this part. I also haven’t done theater in a long time. I’ve been doing TV and film for the last…well long time shall I say. I got called back in NYC and got the job, but Covid ruined it for everyone.
This is so physically demanding along with adapting the style of writing. I spend some time hopping and my leg does a lot of kicking, so I have to marry that mindset as an actor while the athletic side comes out. I have to do a lot of taking the leg on and off with some wardrobe changes as I steal the Senator’s leg and then do a dance with him. That was fun learning the Two for Tea dance. Another funny scene is when I dance with Sally/Slavek- my leg goes out of control and starts trying to do things to her as I’m on one leg with my rotator button fighting the leg to wrap around her. I must say that Amy and Ken let me do some funny stuff with the rotator button on my prosthesis.
I also love that my leg, named Jobu, does have his own bio in the program saying where he is from and how we both couldn’t have done this show without each other. You can’t say that all time! This is a great show that will make you laugh and we all need that in our lives while tackling present day issues on diversity.
Don’t miss your opportunity see this fun filled, action packed play before time runs out. We are so fortunate to have the talented Ken Kaissar and all of the cast and crew who made A Leg Up possible. Tickets available at www.brtstage.org; performances take place through October 9, 2022.