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Harry Clarke

Theatre Review by David Hurst - November 21, 2017

Billy Crudup
Photo by Carol Rosegg

After seeing Harry Clarke, the mesmerizing and frequently creepy new play by David Cale at The Vineyard, you'll start making a list of superlatives in your head to describe the tour de force performance being given by Billy Crudup in the title role. Amazing, incredible, sexy and haunting—take your pick. But they all seem like puny adjectives in light of Crudup's Herculean achievement of inhabiting more than a dozen characters in this 80-minute, intermission-less monologue that's equal parts thriller and voyeuristic confession.

Making his debut at The Vineyard, as is the show's terrific director Leigh Silverman (Violet, Chinglish and Well), playwright Cale is known best as an Obie-winning solo performer, writer and actor who typically does his own material. He actually starred in an early draft of Harry Clarke at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh back in 2013. It's an auspicious meeting of talents that finds Cale collaborating with Silverman, who has an unerring eye for small, subtle details, and they're both no doubt counting their lucky stars this staging at The Vineyard managed to snare an actor as gifted as Billy Crudup. A story of a troubled man living a double-life, Harry Clarke is good old-fashioned ‘storytelling' at its finest.

In discussing Harry Clarke one has to be careful not to say too much at the risk of divulging spoilers. In brief, Philip Brugglestein is a young man from Indiana who moves to New York City following the death of his parents and reinvents himself. As a child, Brugglestein had invented an alter ego named Harry Clarke, a cockney Londoner, whom he felt more at ease inhabiting that he did living as Philip Brugglestein. Upon arriving in New York, Philip feels the pull of Harry when, on a lark, he decides to follow a man one day "just to see where he goes." That man turns out to be a wealthy, Long Islander named Mark Schmidt and Philip finds himself completely taken over by Harry as his involvement with Mark and his family heats up.

Cale incorporates elements of film noir is his script and there might be a temptation to compare Philip's assuming Harry's identity to Tom Ripley stepping into the person of Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley. But the character of Ripley in Patricia Highsmith's psychological thriller is actually very different than Cale's loveably, frightening sociopath. As Harry's involvement with the Schmidt family spins out of control, Crudup's performance sharpens with a laser-like intensity. He is riveting to watch, frozen in place on the stage for large stretches of the story, as he flips chameleon-like from one character to another. Silverman frames Crudup beautifully with a simple setting courtesy of Alexander Dodge and atmospheric lighting by Alan C. Edwards that changes the scene but never detracts from the momentum of the play.

A deft examination of identity, personality and the ability to reinvent oneself at the drop of a hat, Harry Clarke and Billy Crudup will delight you and terrify you in equal measure.

Harry Clarke
Through December 10
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15 Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix