By Tulis McCall
The title character of this play Hughie, by Eugene O’Neill is – spoiler alert – absent. As in not present. Which is too bad for all of us, as I hear he was one very cool dude.
Hughie was so cool that it was his death that sent Erie (Forest Whitaker) off on a four day drunk from which he is freshly returned. The year is 1928. Summer. Midtown New York. It is around 3 AM. And we are in the lobby of an old hotel that has seen better days. It does however retain a depth and grandeur that is so filled with life, you can almost hear it breathe. Indeed, the set by Christopher Oram is another character in this play. Would that it had vocal chords.
Back to the story. Erie, is fresh off a bender and returned to his home. The night clerk (Frank Wood) who goes by the name of Charlie Hughes (no relation) has only been on the job a few days. This is the first time the two have met.
Erie is filled with that squeaky sober feeling a person gets when the booze has worn off and you are worse for wear because a great deal of time has passed when you were being very unkind to your body. That mortal coil has been through the ringer. Erie is just catching up with himself. Just catching up and trying his best to connect his mind with his body with his heart with his spirit. He is filled with square pegs that have spent too much time in round holes.
And the one, the most onliest thing that he does not want to do is to go upstairs to his room 492. That is the one place he does not want to be. And that is the only place he can call home. Home is upstairs. Mr. Hughes is downstairs, and if Erie plays his cards right they can while away the hours until dawn when his room will not be quite so cold and miserable.
So. Erie has a goal. Could not be clearer. Keep the clerk engaged. I once had a wonderful acting teacher who said that the purpose of a monologue was to keep the other character from leaving. Be so compelling that the other(s) stay and listen. This is why standing in the most brightly lit corner of the room and speaking does not constitute a monologue all on its own.
This memo does not seem to have reached Mr. Whitaker. Erie appears distracted in the extreme. His lines come and go with so many gaps between them that the night clerk could have excused himself and gone to the men’s room several times over. That being the case, the momentum of the piece is lost. Whether this is directorial or Mr. Whitaker’s choice is a mystery. What should be a Hail Mary pass at the play’s conclusion rolls out as flat as a sigh. The flame that is Erie sputters out and we are left with nothing.
HUGHIE by Eugene O’Neill, Directed by Michael Grandage
WITH Forest Whitaker and Frank Wood
Sets and Costumes by Christopher Oram, Lights by Neil Austin, Sound by Adam Cork