Review by Tulis McCall
4 March 2016
The title character of this play Hughie, by Eugene O’Neill is – spoiler alert – absent. As in not present. Which is too bad for all of us, as I hear he was one very cool dude.
Hughie was so cool that it was his death that sent Erie (Forest Whitaker) off on a four day drunk from which he is freshly returned. The year is 1928. Summer. Midtown New York. It is around 3 AM. And we are in the lobby of an old hotel that has seen better days. It does however retain a depth and grandeur that is so filled with life, that you can almost hear it breath. Indeed, the set by Christopher Oram is another character in this play. Would that it had vocal chords.
Back to the story. Erie, is fresh off a bender and returned to his home. The night clerk (Frank Wood) who goes by the name of Charlie Hughes (no relation) has only been on the job a few days. This is the first time the two have met.
Erie is filled with that squeaky sober feeling a person gets when the booze has worn off and you are worse for wear because a great deal of time has passed when you were being very unkind to your body. That mortal container has been through the ringer. Erie is just catching up with himself. Just catching up and trying his best to connect his mind with his body with his heart with his spirit. He is filled with square pegs that have spent too much time in round holes.
And the one, the most lonliest thing that he does not want to do is to go upstairs to his room 492. That is the one place he does not want to be. And that is the only place he can call home. Home is upstairs. Mr. Hughes is downstairs, and if Erie plays his cards right they can while away the hours until dawn when his room will not be as cold and miserable.
So Erie has a goal. Could not be clearer. Keep the clerk engaged. I once had a wonderful acting teacher who said that the purpose of a monologue was to keep the other character from leaving. Be so compelling that the other(s) stay and listen. This is why standing in the most brightly lit corner of the room and speaking does not constitute a monologue all on its own.
This memo does not seem to have reached Mr. Whitaker. Erie appears distracted in the extreme. His lines come and go with so many gaps between them that the night clerk could have excused himself and gone to the men’s room several times over. That being the case, the momentum of the piece is lost. Whether this is directorial or Mr. Whitaker’s choice is a mystery. What should be a Hail Mary pass at the play’s conclusion rolls out as flat as a sigh. The flame that is Erie sputters out and we are left with nothing.
"In Michael Grandage’s gentle, churning dream of a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s 'Hughie,' which sighed open on Thursday night at the Booth Theater, Erie is portrayed by that excellent actor Forest Whitaker, in a transfixing yet modest Broadway debut."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"An hourlong play at Broadway prices — $149 top price — is automatically a dubious proposition. As such, it simply must deliver the goods. But Whitaker doesn’t, so 'Hughie' craps out."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Forest Whitaker may have an Oscar under his belt (for 'The Last King of Scotland') but his Broadway debut is largely inconsequential — he brings no heft or insight to Erie Smith, the small-time gambler in Eugene O’Neill’s two-hander, 'Hughie.'"
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Hughie is only an hour long. But as we wait for Whitaker to gain confidence in his character, the night grows long and weary."
David Cote for Time Out New York
"There's something deeply satisfying about this little play, which O'Neill himself may never have expected anyone to actually mount on a stage. Thank goodness it has been, especially with Whitaker in the lead role."
Mark Kennedy for Associated Press
"With his sleepy eyes, soulful voice and fluttering hands, Whitaker is a superb actor who can wear sorrow like a baggy overcoat. However, as watchable as he is, the real star of Michael Grandage's production is the design team."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"There’s no denying the suffering humanity that O’Neill saw in poor Erie. But Whitaker’s hangdog vulnerability makes it tough to believe in Erie’s better days."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...