Observing History’s Perilous Footnotes

I forgot how wonderful live theater is. I arrived to New York in 1981 when The Bowery was still populated by the disenfranchised and forgotten. CBGC’s stood, as a testament to an era of decadence and Time’s Square was a drug riddled, enclave of prostitution and crime. The South Bronx had not yet shed its 1970’s incarnation as the definition of urban blight – an area nearly destroyed by poverty, crime and arson. 


Playwright/actor Chris Harcum, in "Two Lovely Black Eyes"

Playwright/actor Chris Harcum, in “Two Lovely Black Eyes”

Before Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, before the Internet, the glut of social media gurus poised to guide us to the next plateau of existence, and even before the computer itself, I pounded out my thoughts on an old IBM Selectric – remember those? At that time, the digital revolution had not descended upon us and time moved slower, but history was still unfolding. Then, one could respond to an ad in Backstage, knock on a door in a cavernous space in the Lower East Side, and have someone actually take your script and read it. I am thinking specifically of Todo con Nada and its intrepid Artistic Director at that time, Aaron Beall. (And if anyone reads this and remembers Aaron, yes, he still owes me $250)

I have long since wiped out the debt because his tiny, beat up, dusty, beyond repair, basement, theater was legend. It served as incubator for the reckless, arrogant, breathtaking, and glorious creative spirit that possessed those in its throes. And I was there. Love and squalor co-existed in glorious combustion and I relished every second of it. I recall the time I proposed a “solo festival” and Aaron went with it – put an ad in Backstage, and without auditioning anyone, scheduled 15-minute slots. People showed up and vied for spots as if we were paying them a million bucks. I created flyers, acted as stage manager, and watched some of the best theater I’ve ever seen – a lot of it better than anything I’ve since seen on Broadway…

Chris Harcum in "Two Lovely Black Eyes"

Chris Harcum in “Two Lovely Black Eyes”

Which brings me to my point; no artistic action or act of creation is separate from the events or history that surround it. Those who are driven to create words, art, plays, and characters, do so via osmosis – they absorb the cultural milieu and sociopolitical climate that they live in and reveal to us everything we have missed while consumed by our daily minutiae. I was thrilled to sit tonight, in a little, beat up, dusty Lower East Side, basement, theater and witness the love and squalor of unfolding history. An old pal – actor/writer extraordinaire – Chris Harcum, stood up in a black room and presented our history to us with awe and reverence and a whole lot of wit. His newest solo show, “Two Lovely Black Eyes” is billed as a, “stand-up and storytelling fueled solo performance on feuds, gunslinging and what you get when you go up against the impossible…” But it is really much more than that. Directed by the wonderful Aimee Todoroff [Artistic Director of Elephant Run District], we are beckoned to traverse a tightrope of finely tuned observations that most of us ignore. They are the observations often consigned to historical footnotes but that carry the weight of entire civilizations in their disclosure: the crazy, rude woman in the subway who begs for money, people who are defined by their electronic devices to the exclusion of life itself, the culture shock of moving to New York and never quite fitting in, the dear friend who – well, that I can’t give away…

It has been a long time since I left a theater and felt that charge – that exhilaration that comes with the revelation that we are all in this damn thing together and we had better make the best of it. I actually remembered why I came to New York in the first place and to jolt my memory that profoundly is no small feat. Go and see history unfold – hurry, not many show dates remain. “You will not regret it.”

— Deborah Johnstone

Two Lovely Black Eyes
Written and performed by Chris Harcum
Directed by Aimee Todoroff
Presented as part of the Frigid Festival by Elephant Run District
Tickets available at SmartTix
Under St. Marks
94 St. Marks Place
New York, New York
Subway: F to 2nd Ave., L to 1st Ave.,
6 to Astor Place

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