Play review: Harm for the Holidays at N.C. Stage

I’ve been on a bit of a Tom Chalmers kick lately. I caught his standup routine at the most recent Laugh Your Asheville Off Comedy Festival, then I did a short preview of his self-written one-man show, Harm for the Holidays, followed by a longer preview of his David Sedaris-written one-man show, The Santaland Diaries, which opens at ACT on Thursday, Dec. 13 (see the Wednesday, Dec. 12 issue of Xpress for the full story).

I happen to think Chalmers is a pretty funny guy. He can do standup without resorting to lowbrow humor. He’s self-effacing without being totally disgusting and he manages to poke fun at political correctness without offending the P.C. sensibilities of a liberal-minded, egalitarian-leaning audience.

And while I’m not about to head up the local chapter of the Tom Chalmers fan club (I would, but I’m overextended at the moment), I have to say that, at his Friday, Nov. 30 performance of Harm at N.C. Stage (one of the show’s final runs), I laughed so hard I got a side stitch.

The 90-minute show is culled from Chalmers’ own holiday experiences; stories he claims prove that his family is somehow cursed to spend the holidays in the emergency room. “I love the holidays but I also fear them,” the comedian told Xpress. And that suspicion-tempered zeal is not restricted to Christmas, either. Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Columbus Day are equally dangerous dates on Chalmers’ calendar.

The performance is a fast-paced, sometimes breathless romp through the seasons with the actor presenting his tales monologue-style with plenty of physical comedy and caricatures of various relatives. The set is split between a Christmas tree and pile of gifts on one side of the stage and a lavish Thanksgiving spread on the other. Most of Chalmers’ action happens center stage as he recounts the death of his grandfather, an untimely breakup, and various sudden and violent illnesses. I don’t think it will ruin the play for anyone planning to go next year to say that a certain vomit/diarrhea sequence choreographed to a particularly famous symphonic overture was so hilarious the entire audience was doubled over in their chairs.

Okay, so Harm isn’t the stuff of grand epiphanies and probably not appropriate for really straight-laced out-of-town guests. But for anyone who stresses over the holidays or needs a break from shopping crowds, office parties and constant family, here’s a perfect escape. Hopefully Harm will be back next year.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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