Spare of actors and set pieces, Chris Harcum's one-man trip down memory lane, Some Kind of Pink Breakfast, is long on talent. Pink, which debuted this summer at the New York International Fringe Festival and is now playing at the Gene Frankel Theater, is a throwback to the year 1986. Harcum, playing himself, prefaces the show by saying that a recent e-mail from a high school ex-girlfriend set the wheels in motion, as he debated whether he should attend the 20th high school reunion in 2008 at his North Carolina high school.
Harcum then embarks on a 70-minute journey back to school, in which he plays a total of 27 characters all at once, with no artifice—only body language, facial tics, and varied vocal tones to distinguish all of them, including friends, classmates, family members, and even his then girlfriend Molly. It is hard not to pity Harcum as he relays what a whirlwind his sophomore year was. Standing only 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, he is catnip for the bullies who ride the bus with him, and he faces just as much opposition from his vice-happy parents.
Over the course of the play (crisply directed by Bricken Sparacino), Harcum sprinkles plenty of 1980s references—just about every entertainment nugget, including Dune, Quicksilver, "Bette Davis Eyes," even Trapper Keepers, gets a mention. But Pink is more than just a recap of an episode of VH1's I Love the '80s. In fact, it is downright riveting. As the taut show progresses, one realizes that Harcum isn't interested in nostalgia, and his high school experience included moments far more scarring than most.
Like Van Halen, Harcum too was hot for his English teacher, only she returned the interest. He also details his first sexual encounter, an unsettling tryst with a near stranger whom he eventually learns has many emotional problems. That he plays both of these characters, and does so using a chair as a prop, is impressive. That the scene never draws laughs or snickers is downright miraculous.
This is a very hard show to pull off, even if there had been an ensemble to shoulder the load, so the fact that Harcum is able to do it alone makes his work one of the most vital stage performances of the year. As defined as each of his characters are, Pink moves at a quick pace, with Harcum constantly and sleekly morphing out of one skin and into another. There also is plenty of humor here; Harcum's piece is rich enough that it successfully entwines comedy with pathos, hitting his emotional truths home all the more easily.
Given his soulful performance, it would be easy to overlook the technical help he receives. Maryvel Bergen's sharp lighting design helps punctuate the highs and considerable lows of Harcum's 15th year. (Apparently, the Frankel experienced considerable technical glitches on the night of the performance, but the show was sturdy enough to have survived this bare-bones situation without even calling attention to it.)
At the end of Harcum's tale, he again poses the question of whether he should attend his high school reunion. His trip may or may not be rewarding, but a trip to see Pink surely is.