The key underlying concept of Chris Harcum's new one-man show Two Lovely Black Eyes is that theater is a place of immediacy and engagement, where performers and audience co-exist in time and space and can achieve a level of connection that's not possible in recorded media like film or TV. Harcum could put a lot of the stories and anecdotes that comprise this piece on his blog or in Facebook posts, but they wouldn't mean the same thing as they do when we experience them with him, live, in the charged atmosphere and proximity that indie theater affords.
The show, he says at the outset, has no script, and when stage manager/board op Heather Olmstead is heard turning pages in the booth above our heads she assures us that she's reading a magazine. Theater Shield Emergence Response "Peeps" clad in faux police uniforms (sporting glittery little caps) are clearly noted, right on the face of the program, as being portrayed by Ethan Angelica and Becca Bernard. So the artifice of theater is under investigation here as well: for example, Harcum's riff, early in the evening, about the nature of theater critics feels at once heartfelt and ironic.
The potency of live performance is clearly demonstrated by the end of Two Lovely Black Eyes, as is Harcum's impressive range as an actor and director Aimee Todoroff's skill in maintaining tight control over an event whose very raison d'etre seems to be a celebration of anarchic freestyling. But here was my main takeaway: the very powerful idea that words can be as treacherous as bullets. Harcum spends a good deal of his time on stage using words to deliberately discomfit us: stories about big hairy men (literally) hanging out at the locker room at his gym and about a probably mentally disturbed woman who begs for money on the subway and then spews abuse at those who fail to comply with her request—these are not simply the cynical urbanite's slice-of-life gross-out tales but rather a calculated assault. This is a show about NOT resting easily; passive entertainment is what happens at the movies. Usually.
Of course bullets shred human flesh while words tear the human soul; the resultant damage and relative ease of repair is what makes these weapons so fundamentally different. Harcum tells us up front that he's going to talk about guns in this show, and when he begins to, he tells us right up front that he doesn't like them. Finding out why is just one reason you will want to catch this surprising new work at FRIGID New York.