Other Forces 2013: Julia Jarcho’s “Grimly Handsome” at Incubator Arts Project

photo: Alex Fabozzi

photo: Alex Fabozzi

“I know your name.”

“You do?”

“Yeah.”

“What is it?”

“Guess.”

In that charming and creepy flirtation we bear some witness to the seductive, eerie, and violent relations to identity and intimacy under investigation in Julia Jarcho‘s new work, Grimly Handsome, playing at the Incubator Arts Project through January 20th as part of Other Forces 2013.

The play, written and directed by the artist, is a murder mystery where the murder is in the beginning and the mystery is in everything. The genre becomes increasingly suspect until we, if I may quote Jarcho from a 2009 interview with Richard Maxwell in the Brooklyn Rail, “don’t know exactly how to pay attention the whole time.”

This three-hander for serious downtown talent is a triptych in which the actors play different characters with slightly different names in each of the three acts. That, or represent different levels of some new tripartite model of consciousness. “We don’t need names. Not the regular kind,” – Alesh/Alpert/Alfo (Ben Williams), Gregor/Greggins/Grox (Pete Simpson), and Natalia/Nelly&Nally/Noplop (Jenny Seastone Stern).

In act one,  Simpson and Williams play Polish-ish Christmas tree salesmen and Seastone Stern a single American who reads crime novels and buys a tree and may or may not light it on fire. In act two, the men play NYC detectives while Seastone Stern, now their lover, may or may not, in drag, pose as a witness in their investigation. They all transform a third time but it is pretty spectacular and trendy so I won’t say how.

The titular handsomeness becomes a floating signifier that alternately attaches to the bodies of both men in a kind of Lynchian haze. Accents hang on the cast as loose clothes. Gestures are performed with an abstract vacancy. One odd cross in particular reminding of the weirdness of theater and the secret feelings of actors. The shabby illusions of the staging are inhabited like poor living arrangements. The economy of means unique to theater here reads like economic and psychic hardship as well as some insubstantial hold on self and other. “You’re acting like there’s no difference between different people,” Seastone Stern says. The stark light design (Barbara Samuels) facilitates the encroaching gloom, submerging every moment in a murky pool of mimetic blight, casting the grim events into sharp relief.

Acting seems primary here with beautiful moments of the actor contemplating character and character contemplating actor. When Nelly, maybe in disguise as Nally (or was it a dream?), describes the tree salesmen to the cops she says they embraced and danced, something we did not see in Act 1.  Did we miss it? Will they do it later? It’s great watching their faces take in this direction/planted memory and its affective distance from the coolness of the proceedings and their chaste homosociality.

The play presents itself with a refreshing calm and a seeming lack of interest in entertaining, pleasing, or even captivating the audience but at the same time it is quite fun and haunting. Also, for those keeping track, they looked out for much of the show but did not make eye contact with us (or at least not me).

And there was a walk out(!)

Grimly Handsome continues tomorrow Saturday, January 12th at 10pm and continues through Sunday, January 20th.

Tickets here.

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