Monday, March 7, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Hughie

Frank Wood, Forest Whitaker Wide Shot - Photo: Marc Brenne
Sometimes a Hollywood Star Isn’t Enough
to Guarantee Broadway Success
By Lauren Yarger
Broadway shows seem to think casting a Hollywood film star is the only sure way to success these days, but with the revival of Eugene ONeill’s difficult Hughie, Forest Whitaker has proved them wrong.

Whitaker, who won an Academy Award for his turn as dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland” and who has a long string of successful films, found that acting on a stage is quite different. He doesn’t seem comfortable in the role of Erie Smith, a down-on-his-luck gambler who pays a visit to one of his favorite late-night haunts, a run-down hotel in New York.

Christopher Oram effectively creates the brooding lobby in dark, faded,  copper-dulled hues that are symbolic of the characters’ existences. He also designs costumes to invoke the 1928 setting.

For most of the 65-minute play, Whitaker sounds like he is reading from the script. This is pretty lethal for a work that is mostly long monologues broken only by an occasional contribution from the other actor on stage (in this case a solid Broadway vet Frank Wood who plays the hotel’s night clerk Charlie Hughes) or some inserted pauses with music. It’s all Whitaker, but Director Michael Grandage never gets him beyond one superficial level in a role that demands layers of depth and nuance.

Now to be fair, the play isn’t one of O’Neill’s greatest. The one-act is one big monologue by Erie, who talks to the new Night Clerk about his predecessor named, Hughie, who recently died. It seems the two spent a lot of time together, with Erie staking Hughie to some friendly gambling between the two. Erie seems lost without Hughie’s companionship, but his angst may be more about the fact that his own luck has run out since Hughie first went to the hospital, Erie also may be reluctant to have to face the insignificance of his own life.

While Erie describes their relationship as a friendship – Hughie was “one grand little guy,” he tells the new clerk – he confuses the issue by referring to him as “a sucker night after night.” We get the impression he didn’t really like the guy – he sure didn’t get along with Hughie’s wife. It might be that Erie just enjoyed feeling empowered by being able to use and bully Hughie.

Though the clerk tells us he is not related to Hughie, despite the “Hughes” last name, before the night is over we begin to see that he might be more connected to him than he knows, at least with respect to filling the void in Erie’s life.

Despite having only a few lines throughout the play, Wood gets most of the evening’s laughs. Whitaker’s inability to give his character some shape causes the production to fall flat, which must be a disappointment to fans willing to pay $150 a ticket for just over an hour’s entertainment (Box Office sales reportedly have been slow).

Grandage reunites the creative team from his Tony-Award-winning production Red and his recent West End hit Photograph 51 starring Nicole Kidman, but fails to make it three times the charm here (Neil Austin designs the lighting and Adam Cork designs sound and composes music which helps drift some spacing into the monologues.)  The play, originally scheduled for a Broadway run though mid June, will close early on March 27.

Hughie runs at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45 St., NYC, through March 27. Perofromances are Tuesdays: 7:30 pm; Wednesdays 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursdays 7:30 pm; Fridays 8 pm; Saturdays 2 and 8 pm; Sundays 3 pm. Tickets $55-$149: hughiebroadway.com 

FAMILY FRIENDLY FACTORS
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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