REVIEW: Billy Crudup is astonishing in “Harry Clarke”
Remember Rachel Dolezal? The former NAACP chapter president in Spokane who made national headlines when it was revealed she was a white woman who “felt” black? Well, meet Harry Clarke: her “English” counterpart.
Just who is Harry Clarke? That question has haunted me intermittently since I first saw Billy Crudup’s astonishing performance in the one-person play “Harry Clarke” by David Cale in its twice-extended premiere at the Vineyard Theatre last fall.
Re-opening tonight in an encore, commercial run at the Minetta Lane Theatre Off-Broadway, audiences have now been gifted ten weeks to ponder the question once more and wonder in amazement at Mr. Crudup’s captivating star-turn. This is one performance you do not want to miss.
Harry Clarke, you learn in the first moments of the play, is a fiction, the alias of one Philip Brugglestein, a rather unremarkable, Illinois-born potential sociopath raised in an abusive home in rural Indiana. At the tender age of eight, Philip discovers his English accent; by eighteen he’s orphaned and living in New York, fully assuming an English persona. But Harry, a third persona, is distinct from the merely English Philip—less posh, more cockney and cocksure.
On a whim, Harry stalks then befriends a total stranger, Mark Schmidt, ingratiating himself in the world of Mark’s family with surprising and deadly results. As he seamlessly summons some fifteen characters by my count, each with a distinct voice and specific movement vocabulary, Mr. Crudup as Philip as Harry takes the audience on a thrilling, 80-minute ride at once funny, sexy, and scary.
Just after meeting Mark at a play, Harry opines: “I don’t understand why anyone would read reviews. Why would you want to know what’s going to happen? Isn’t one of the powers of art rooted in the element of surprise?”
Harry is right, so I won’t reveal anything more, except to say Mr. Cale has spun a fascinating, original story both wholly fantastic and also very believable. After all, we so often don't question what we want to be true, and Harry becomes the human embodiment of that idea, challenging our notions of personality. As the story goes deeper and deeper, and Harry takes bigger and bigger risks, I found myself checking back in to remember it is all a lie.
Directed by Leigh Silverman with crispness and precision, for most of the play, Mr. Crudup stands in place, center stage, telling the story. No theatrics are needed. The play, in fact, exists primarily in the mind, which helps explain why Audible—Amazon’s audio entertainment arm—is the primary producer. But for a wooden deck chair and side table (set by Alexander Dodge), the stage is bare. As is the case with any well done, one-person play, I vividly experienced characters and places that never appeared on stage—a testament to the writing, but also Mr. Crudup’s considerable talent under Ms. Silverman’s keen eye.
Noticeably effective was the sly sound design by Bart Fasbender; in one example, the gentle sloshing of waves accompanies Harry’s visit to a yacht in Newport, effectively evoking the dank of the ocean and spray of sea air yet chimed in so incidentally that I almost didn’t notice it was happening.
The elements of this production exist in exquisite harmony, balanced and honed by the production team to achieve a memorable and chilling evening at the theatre. Who is Harry Clarke? I suggest you find out for yourself.
Bottom Line: Billy Crudup is simply captivating and astonishing as he seamlessly summons 15 characters in David Cale’s one-person thriller “Harry Clarke”. At once funny, sexy, and scary, the elements of this crisp production exist in exquisite harmony, balanced and honed by the production team to achieve a memorable and chilling evening at the theatre. You do not want to miss Mr. Crudup’s performance in this superb play.
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane
New York, NY 10012
Running Time: 80 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: March 18, 2018
Final Performance: May 13, 2018