By Sandi Durell
This was my first Hughie experience, not having seen Eugene O’Neill’s classic formerly starring Jason Robards (1964) and Al Pacino (1996) and, unfortunately, it has already been dubbed the Hughie embarrassment brought on by Forest Whitaker (whom I adore on screen) who didn’t know his lines when he set foot on the stage of the Booth Theatre at the very onset. It’s a shame, is all I can say, because now that he knows his lines, without a hitch, in Michael Grandage’s latest revival, his performance is genuinely loveable, filled with pathos and suffering, as the low-life gambler Erie Smith in this 55 minute, realistically a monologue, drama.
It’s 1928 as Erie reenters the dreary, once exquisite, West Side Hotel now a “dump, catering to the catch-as catch-can trade,” where Charlie Hughes, the new night clerk stares into space. Erie is a bit hung over but unrelenting in his unending chatter about his former buddy, the old night clerk, Hughie, now deceased, and their endless chats talking gambling and the Follies ladies (especially the blondes) Erie would bed . . . their conversations would go on into early morning, Hughie always excited by Erie’s exploits.
What is truly remarkable is Christopher Oram’s amazing set (spectacularly lit by Neil Austin) that replicates what once was the grandeur of an exquisite hotel, now a broken down shadow of its past; lonely – a birdcage elevator, a turn-style door, high glass windows, a two story staircase and the huge desk where Charlie now sits, vacantly nodding as Erie walks down memory lane of his better days. Occasionally, there’s the sound of the El passing through, or a siren or other sounds of the city, bleak and depressing (by Adam Cork); almost as dismal as the man who desperately attempts to connect to Charlie.
It is at the very conclusion of the play that Charlie finally responds, perhaps driven by Erie’s extreme loneliness. Wood is exemplary in the role, seemingly shutting Erie out and, on rare occasions, getting the chuckle when he re-enters the action with a stare or a word.
Sadly, the bottom line with any show is advance ticket sales, and although the play was slated to run thru June 12th, it will now close on March 27th.
Lessons to be learned and they all seem to have piled on during this season – – Al Pacino in China Doll using teleprompters; Bruce Willis in Misery with an earpiece . At a $3million loss, Hughie yet another example of celebrities who haven’t done their homework when it comes to working on stage with live audiences.
Photos: Marc Brenner