Review of Harry Clarke starring Billy Crudup at Vineyard Theatre

  • Our critic's rating:
    November 22, 2017
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    Seeing this production of Harry Clarke, reminded me once again that Billy Crudup is a terrific actor. It is more than talent. It is specificity, focus and commitment. Crudup is a man crafting his craft.

    That was what this production did for me. This was enough in an of itself, but it could have been so much more.

    Harry Clarke is an English bloke who has sprung fully formed out of the ether and settled into the body of Philip Brugglestein. By the time he was 8 years old he was speaking with a London/Cockney accent and declaring to anyone who would listen that this was his natural voice. When both of his unhappy parents died before he was 18, Phil sold all the worldly goods he now owned and left South Bend for New York.

    For the next 12 or so years, Phil spoke with an English accent and told people he was from a town just north of London. We never discover what he did for work during this spate of time or what he called himself. I am guessing it was Phil - until one day "Harry Clarke" showed up. One day, while gently stalking a man - on account of his being unemployed - he stumbles into the stranger's life long enough to hear that the man's relationship with Sabine is not working and that the man will be taking the day off from work to go to Connecticut.

    Months later Phil sees this same man at a downtown production of a show. He says hello and on the spot makes up a story of how he met this man through Sabine who, we discover, is no longer in the picture. When asked his name, Phil replies "Harry Clarke." The other man is named Mark Schmidt. And the adventure begins. At dinner they discover a mutual fascination: Mark has money and Harry is creative. Each wants what the other has.

    Harry works his way into the Schmidt family without meaning to, but meaning to. It is as if he really IS two people, and Harry is the one who is being observed as well as the one leading everyone a merry chase. This rich sad drunk family is ripe for the picking, and one by one, Harry takes them on. Well, he doesn't so much take them on as they are delivered on platters to him, and who is he to refuse an offer? As Harry slips deeper and deeper into their lives he eventually settles on Mark and makes an agreement between "Phil" and "Harry". Be nothing but Harry for 90 days and see what happens.

    It does not end well, but then it does not end unwell. Life plays itself out and Harry is released, unharmed and not badly off, into the world at large.

    And the question is: Who cares? Not I.

    David Cale's text is lacking in connectivity, and Leigh Silverman's direction does little to enhance the written word. This train is being powered entirely by the good intentions and determination of Crudup.

    While Crudup is more than inspiring to watch, I wish he had had material and direction that allowed him to soar.

    (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

    What the popular press says...

    "Mr. Crudup has a natural sense of drama that needs no underlining. His vulpine charm — look out for those bright teeth! — makes it impossible not to like him, even as he grows alarming. The production, directed by Leigh Silverman, is just as masterly, playing quietly on the theme of making much out of little."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "Is it identity theft if you choose to live as someone you’re not? The question occurred to me during David Cale’s slyly seductive and quietly creepy solo play “Harry Clarke,” at the Vineyard Theatre."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "The piece, for all its faults, has just enough glamour to carry us along. As Harry tells us, sometimes even fake enchantment will do."
    Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

    "Coming across like a mild, less lethal variation on The Talented Mr. Ripley with a touch of Six Degrees of Separation, the play feels attenuated even at its 80-minute running time. Crudup nonetheless makes it worthwhile, and the piece, performed on a simple set featuring a chair and table on a wooden deck, has received a polished staging by Leigh Silverman."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - Time Out - Hollywood Reporter