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Harry Clarke

Billy Crudup’s tour-de-force performance is a potent reminder that all you need for good theater is the actor’s voice--as well as a good script, of course.

Billy Crudup in David Cale’s “Harry Clarke” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

Self-invention can come in many shapes and sizes, but in Harry Clarke, it takes on a very particular hue. In this one-man play by David Cale, Billy Crudup portrays Philip Brugglestein, who was born in Illinois and grew up in Indiana. When he moves to New York, Philip becomes a “cocky Londoner” named Harry Clarke.

As Billy/Philip/Harry tells us in the beginning, “I could always do an immaculate English accent. Ever since I was a little kid.” And as he adds somewhat later, “Harry Clarke was a character I did for myself”–before he eventually and essentially became that character.

As he proceeds to describe a home-movie from his childhood, when he was eight years old, we get an inkling of why Philip assumed a different identity. His parents get into a fight over his speaking with a British accent, when “My father hollers [at my mother], ‘You wanted to keep the kid, you deal with this.’” Philip’s mother responds, “You’re a pig. I cannot wait to leave you.” And, as we later learn, Philip’s father also called him a “pansy.”

Billy Crudup in David Cale’s “Harry Clarke” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

After describing the movie, Philip is suddenly considerably older and living in New York, where he tells us, he’s “struggling to make ends meet.” A consistently first-rate actor, Crudup speaks not only in Philip’s American English and Harry’s cockney British–but with distinctive voices for every other character we meet, including Philip’s parents and numerous others: Mark, a man he follows one day and then runs into at “a little theater in Tribeca” and befriends by pretending they met before through Mark’s French girlfriend, Sabine.

While Philip/Harry moves in on the well-to-do Mark and has an affair with him, Crudup will also come to impersonate Mark’s sister Stephanie and his mother Ruth. He even becomes Stephanie singing a song–at Joe’s Pub, no less–including the lyric: “I’m so tired of wakin’ up alone each day/I wanna say to loneliness, ‘Hey, fuck you!’” It’s all very natural, since playwright David Cale used to perform his one-man shows in downtown theaters, beginning three decades ago, when his scripts grew out of song lyrics.

Billy Crudup in David Cale’s “Harry Clarke” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Philip’s shaggy-dog yarn keeps exposing him as what used to be known as a pathological liar. And with little more than a wooden deck chair, a small table, a wooden slated floor and a sky-blue background (the set is by Alexander Dodge, the lighting by Alan C. Edwards), Crudup’s tour-de-force performance is a potent reminder that all you need for good theater is the actor’s voice–as well as a good script, of course. It’s also testimony to his having been well directed by Leigh Silverman, who seems to have gotten the best out of Crudup with his multiple voices and varied expressions.

Harry Clarke (extended through December  23, 2017)

Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-353-0303 or visit http://www.vineyardtheatre.org

Running time: one hour and 25 minutes without an intermission

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (46 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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