Monday, February 6, 2017

Grimly Handsome (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Grimly Handsome, by Julia Jarcho, won an Obie Award awhile back (this is the Off Broadway equivalent of the Tony).  Given this production marks its West Coast Premiere by the City Garage I expected strangeness, and quality.

Cutting to the chase, I was in way disappointed.

Christmas season in the Big Apple.  We find two Eastern European men (Anthony Sannozzaro and Andrew Loviska) selling Christmas trees.  Their conversation seems strange, brimming with history, the kind which might make for nightmares.  Or so it seems.  Turns out, the nightmares reveal themselves as worse than we thought--and more complex.  A would be customer (Lindsay Plake) stops by, and we pretty soon realize she's in a lot of danger being here.  Does she realize that?  Maybe.  Yet either way she is drawn into whatever is going on.

Then, from a kind of psychological grand guignol we emerge into a police procedural.  The same three actors create a few more characters--two of them police officers investigating yet another crime by the serial killer known as The Christmas Ripper.  A witness who saw the body dumped has a strange tale to tell.  Very strange.  But not outside the real of the possible.

No, really.  Odd, sure.  But within what we'd recognize as reality.  Just like the fact one of the cops has a wife, and is sleeping with her husband's partner.  Why?  Well, we get hints.  Hardly anything else really.  Strong hints, that never however congeal into anything solid.  Clues.  Hints.  But very few answers.

But when she reveals her dreams, and the dreams seem to be almost true, then we start to feel what we think of as reality begin to slip...  From a murder mystery we've entered into an existential drama triggered by the crime.  Now it gets stranger.  Why would a police officer have an old santa claus suit, one so darkly red as to look black?  And why after years of marriage would he have kept it a secret?  How then did his wife dream of such a thing?

Why would his partner mention it?  As they approach what might be an answer to the crime, is there another mystery unveiling itself?  Teasing them, whittling away at their sanity?  Or are they simply failing to come to grip with the world As It Is, instead of what everyone assumes it to be?

By play's end, we've gone subtly but firmly past the roadmarks we might recognize.  Manhattan?  No, they (and we) have entered into the weird jungle that this city truly may have become, or perhaps has ever been.  The glimpse behind the curtain proves nothing like what we might expect--yet feels weirdly right, eerily familiar.  Of course the city is this.  How could it be otherwise?  We should have known, even though this is clearly impossible.  Impossible!

Fredericque Michel's direction continues to give rise to one stunning blend of subtle and obvious after another, broad strokes that turn out to be nuanced in startling ways.  The City Garage likewise continues to prove itself an ensemble who trust each other to use the most precise realism while shedding it at will to arrive at truth.

Grimly Handsome plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm (pay what you can at the door) until February 26, 2017 at the Bergamont Station Arts Center, Building T1, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica CA 90404.

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