Bill Crudup Photo: Carol Rosegg
By Fern Siegel
Identity is fertile ground for drama, but
disassociation kicks it up a notch. Or as our narrator explains: “I’ve gotten
on a ride I can’t get off.” And it’s a wild one.
The narrator is Billy Crudup — and for 80 minutes
at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Harry Clarke, he holds us in his thrall.
In fact, the play opens with: “I’m Harry Clarke,
and I’m gonna mess you up.” That’s less threatening when you consider the source: an
8-year-old Midwesterner painfully at odds with his environment.
Harry, whose real name is Philip Brugglestein, is
a poster boy for fractured identity. To cope with an abusive, homophobic father
and the early death of his mother, he transforms himself.
By adopting an English accent by way of PBS,
sometimes “Britey Brit,” more often Cockney, which drives his father mad, he
becomes Harry Clarke, a convenient out for a shy, lonely kid. So powerful is
the lure of a second self, that even the threat of electroshock therapy can’t
dissuade Philip from his invention.
Which is why at 18, he finds himself headed to
the sacred refuge of all outsiders: New York City. And there, over time, Harry
Clarke comes into sharper focus.
Philip may not have the guts to grab what he
wants, but Harry does. Philip is insecure; Harry is cocky and aggressive. And
Harry can think on his feet – inventing a colorful career as tour
manager/assistant to pop singer Sade and hoodwinking Mark Schmidt, a rich
troubled guy, and his equally needy family.
In fact, Harry, charming in a roughhewed way, ricochets from Newport, Rhode Island, to New York, taking us on a roller-coaster ride of sexual excess and emotional highs and lows. Whether he is lounging on a yacht or prowling a gay bar, Harry charts his destiny by capitalizing on vulnerabilities.
Playwright David Cale is interested in how people
navigate their place in a social world. Harry Clarke is a thoughtful,
entertaining look at disassociation that asks primal questions about existence:
Who are you? What is really true: the authentic self or the alter ego?
Coast of Utopia Tony
winner Crudup, who can be rough and sexy in one turn, and scared and disarming
the next, delivers a remarkably muscular performance, directed by Leigh
Silverman. Doing 19 voices, young and old, gay and straight, male and female,
he fully inhabits each character. Some are just brushstrokes, others main
events — all are delivered with ease and virtuosity.
Cale previously wrote and performed acclaimed
solo plays The Redthroats and Lillian. This round, he decided
Crudup could do it better.
The problem is that while Crudup is sensational,
the play is not. There are some surprising twists and turns, assuming we can
believe Harry’s narrative, but its engagement factor is limited. False bravado
can only carry an audience so far.
In common parlance, Harry is a trickster, a con
man. But the biggest con may be on him.
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, Manhattan (Through April 22)
tickets visit: www.ticketmaster.com/Harry-Clarke-tickets/artist/2463444
Time: 80 minutes no intermission