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[Note: This review was for the 2013 production of Grimly Handsome. The current production at Jack is an encore presentation, with the same cast and director.]
Theater review by Helen Shaw. Incubator Arts Project. Written and directed by Julia Jarcho. With Ben Williams, Pete Simpson, Jenny Seastone Stern. 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
It is wrong to tell you too much about Grimly Handsome, Julia Jarcho’s superbly wicked caprice; it would be like warning Little Red Riding Hood about the wolf (save the girl, spoil the story). It’s much better to awaken slowly to the creepiness of Jarcho’s deep, dark woods, to go blithely into her Grimm landscape, which rustles with talking animals, smiling predators and language gone elliptical and awry.
What you can know: Handsome is a trio of trios. Somewhere in wintry New York, two Eastern European Christmas-tree sellers (Williams and Simpson) entice a lonely woman (Stern) into their fir-lined lot; detectives mistrust a witness; three furry scavengers move beneath the boughs. These identities eventually superimpose and elide, thriller archetypes slipping away as soon as we identify them. Jarcho, directing her own work, pulls off miracles: Shabby environs keep surprising us, jokes land even as shadows draw in. Stern, as always, brings a puzzled otherworldliness to her multiple roles, yet the chief delight lies in watching Simpson and Williams as they play partners in each story. Admittedly, their sweet, supportive friendships have their roots in grave dirt—but that doesn’t affect the hilarity of their scenes, nor their palpable joy in playing Jarcho’s language games. It’s wrong, of course, to make it a competition, but even in this wonderful cast, the dour, hilarious Simpson kills his way to the top. It’s Darwinian the way he sinks his teeth into the gumshoe stylizations: He is noir in tooth and claw.—Helen Shaw