By Austin Yang
Let’s face it: You didn’t come here for me to regurgitate the facts about this show. Chances are, you’ve already read that Billy Crudup plays a Midwestern man who since childhood has felt that an English accent was his “true voice” despite physical and verbal abuse from peers and from his homophobic father. Who moves to New York following his father’s death to live his desired life as an Englishman. Who, from following a man one day to meeting him by happenstance at a theater months later to a series of impulsive decisions made afterwards, charms his way into an family and their fortune, The Talented Mr. Ripley style. With a little touch of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And maybe a little Birdman. The plot was never the important part of this production anyway.
The crowning achievement, if not the sole merit of this show by some accounts, is Crudup’s acting. True to David Cale’s repertoire, this show was written as a vehicle for a formidable solo actor, and in Crudup’s hands may well be considered a masterclass in this craft. Granted, veteran audiences of Cale’s work might consider Harry Clarke insufficiently fleshed-out by comparison, but under Crudup’s stewardship, it stands fine on its own. With his command of voice and physicality, inhabiting multiple personalities both in the protagonist Philip Bruggelstein and in the characters he encounters, Crudup makes the most of the 80-minute runtime. Bruggelstein’s timorous nature both in his natural voice and accent of choice—a proper Estuary English—are contrasted by the swaggering Cockney that is his Harry Clarke persona. Harry Clarke surfaces impulsively throughout the play, and it’s clear that his intoxicating sexuality and confidence are dangerously addictive to Bruggelstein. One of the most sinister moments in the play happens when Clarke himself assumes the narration in the ultimate contortion of identity, leaving both Bruggelstein and audience anxiously wondering: “Who are you?”
The production is also a credit to the creative team. Leigh Silverman’s staging helps Crudup fill Alexander Dodge’s cleverly designed set of a deck and a lawn chair, allowing him to create multiple environments including a yacht, a theater, and several lofts. Alan C. Edwards’ lighting design guides the audience through the many beats and phases of the play and of Crudup’s character(s). Finally, the sound work of Bart Fasbender and David Cale himself completes the fever-dreamy quality of Bruggelstein recounting his exploits.
HARRY CLARKE by David Cale