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Big Breakdown at Broken Gears Project Theatre Changes Cast of The Hand

Jeff Swearingen and Joey Folsom (right) in The Hand.
Jeff Swearingen and Joey Folsom (right) in The Hand.

Last week, The Hand got the finger. The two-man show so good I reviewed it twice is still running through Saturday, June 25, at Broken Gears Project Theatre, but actor Joey Folsom has been replaced by director Andy Baldwin, who now is playing the role of "Poor Man." Actor Jeff Swearingen continues in the role of "Rich Man" in German Madrid's witty one-hour play about two strangers and the five-fingered appendage they have in common.

Folsom departed the production in a dust-up before the scheduled performance last Thursday. The show has been hurting for ticket sales since it opened a few weeks back and that night, June 16, there was only one person in the house, freelance critic Christopher Soden, who was comped in. According to Folsom, the trouble started backstage when he asked production manager Elias Taylorson if Soden might agree to return on a different night, say, when there were a few other people in the 35-seat audience. Company policy, says Folsom, who is the founder and artistic director of Broken Gears, has always been to cancel a performance if there were fewer than three paying customers. Taylorson refused to consider canceling the show that night and wouldn't ask Soden to re-schedule -- something confirmed by both parties. "My thought was, the show must go on," says Taylorson.

After that, the drama was all offstage. Voices were raised and expletives were uttered, say those who saw and heard what went down. Folsom changed from his costume into his street clothes and headed for the parking lot. He hasn't returned to the building since. Baldwin posted something on Facebook that night about the walkout, which spurred a flurry of more than 150 comments, mostly from theater people arguing about how small is too small a house for a 45-minute, two-man show.

As of today, Folsom, 27, says he is no longer a part of Broken Gears and most of his company's loose "collective" of young actors, directors and designers have aligned with him.

Taylorson confirms that The Hand went dark last weekend and re-opened this week for a final four nights of shows starring Baldwin and Swearingen. (Director Robin Armstrong stepped in for two nights of rehearsals.) Both sides confirm that Taylorson owns the Broken Gears web domain name and has the only access to the company's bank account. Folsom says he asked Taylorson to relinquish those to him and Taylorson refused, saying, "It's my company now."

For now, the entity still performing in the little house on Fairmount Street in Oak Lawn is still called Broken Gears Project Theatre, though Taylorson says he'd never have started a theater with "Broken anything in the title." Taylorson also said he sank a lot of his own money into Broken Gears' shows, but never took a penny in salary.

Taylorson says he has not spoken to Folsom since the bust-up last week, but adds that he doesn't want to be "the guy who took anybody's company. We only need to get through the end of this run. Then Joey can take Broken Gears and do whatever he wants with it, if he wants."

Folsom, one of Dallas' best young actors and one of the Observer's finalists for a Mastermind award last fall, says he has known Taylorson since appearing onstage with him several years ago in Upstart Productions' Talk Radio. They became friends and when Taylorson was booted from Upstart in a disagreement with that company's founder, Josh Glover, Folsom invited him to work with Broken Gears. Folsom says that long before he waved goodbye to The Hand, however, he'd asked Taylorson to leave his theater, too.

Taylorson, who spent 10 years as a show manager for Medieval Times, says he thinks some of the problems he's had with Upstart and now with Broken Gears arose from the experience gap between him (he's 45) and the younger theater-makers. "Ten years ago some of these guys were still in high school, just getting their driver's licenses," he says.

"In any company, there's conflict," says Folsom, who says he's been asked to audition for shows at three other Dallas theaters and will be directing a play soon in Fort Worth. "But I don't have anything to prove to anybody. Yeah, I walked out. I left. I'm not going to have anyone talk to me like that. There was yelling, screaming and cussing, but not by me. Whether that was the best thing to do, my leaving was the right thing to do, in my opinion. I let my work stand for itself. I have integrity and I'll stand by it, even if it costs me work."

Taylorson says he would work with Joey Folsom again "in a minute...when cooler heads prevail. Enough of the drama."

The Hand continues through June 25 at Broken Gears Project Theatre, 3819 Fairmount. Tickets $15. Box office: 214-443-0000.


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