By Tulis McCall
Seeing this production of Harry Clarke, reminded me once again that Billy Crudup is a terrific actor. It is more than talent. It is specificity, focus and commitment. Crudup is a man crafting his craft.
That was what this production did for me. This was enough in an of itself, but it could have been so much more.
Harry Clarke is an English bloke who has sprung fully formed out of the ether and settled into the body of Philip Brugglestein. By the time he was 8 years old he was speaking with a London/Cockney accent and declaring to anyone who would listen that this was his natural voice. When both of his unhappy parents died before he was 18, Phil sold all the worldly goods he now owned and left South Bend for New York.
For the next 12 or so years, Phil spoke with an English accent and told people he was form a town just north of London. We never discover what he did for work during this spate of time or what he called himself. I am guessing it was Phil – until one day “Harry Clarke” showed up. One day, while gently stalking a man – on account of his being unemployed – he stumbles into the stranger’s life long enough to hear that the man’s relationship with Sabine is not working and that the man will be taking the day off from work to go to Connecticut.
Months later Phil sees this same man at a downtown production of a show. He says hello and on the spot makes up a story of how he met this man through Sabine who, we discover, is no longer in the picture. When asked his name, Phil replies “Harry Clarke.” The other man is named Mark Schmidt. And the adventure begins. At dinner they discover a mutual fascination: Mark has money and Harry is creative. Each wants what the other has.
Harry works his way into the Schmidt family without meaning to, but meaning to. It is as if he really IS two people, and Harry is the one who is being observed as well as the one leading everyone a merry chase. This rich sad drunk family is ripe for the picking, and one by one, Harry takes them on. Well, he doesn’t so much take them on as they are delivered on platters to him, and who is he to refuse an offer? As Harry slips deeper and deeper into their lives he eventually settles on Mark and makes an agreement between “Phil” and “Harry”. Be nothing but Harry for 90 days and see what happens.
It does not end well, but then it does not end unwell. Life plays itself out and Harry is released, unharmed and not badly off, into the world at large.
And the question is: who cares? Not I.
David Cale’s text is lacking in connectivity, and Leigh Silverman’s direction does little enhance the written word. This train is being powered entirely by the good intentions and determination of Crudup.
While Crudup is more than inspiring to watch, I wish he had had material and direction that allowed him to soar.
Harry Clarke – by David Cale, Directed by Leigh Silverman
WITH Billy Crudup
Scenic design by Tony Alexander Dodge; costume design by Kaye Voyce; ighting design by Alan C. Edwards; sound design by Bart Fasbenderand and original music by David Cale.
Vineyard Theatre Artistic Directors Douglas Aibel and Sarah Stern announce the world premiere production of HARRY CLARKE at the Vineyard through December 17.Tickets to HARRY CLARKE are now available and can be purchased online at www.vineyardtheatre.org or by calling the box office at 212-353-0303.