Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), a towering figure in American theater, wrote about 17 of its best known plays, and almost everyone is familiar with some of them, such as Desire Under the Elms, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Ah, Wilderness!, Mourning Becomes Electra, The Iceman Cometh, and Anna Christie. Lesser known are his one-acts, and Hughie was the last of them, written in 1941, and not produced until 1958 and that was in Sweden. It has subsequently been performed by some of America’s leading actors, Al Pacino, Jason Robards, and Forest Whitaker, to name a few. It is fair to say that this is what is known as “an actor’s piece,” and also a “two-hander,” i.e., play with a cast of two.
In the current South Stream Productions presentation, the two characters, Charlie, the new night-clerk in a seedy New York hotel in 1928, and the regular roomer, Erie, who staggers in at a little after 3 a.m., are played alternately by Brook North and David Klionsky. On Friday night, May 27th, North took the central character, Erie, and at the Sunday matinee it was played by Klionsky.
First, the set did not reflect the seediness that O’Neill envisioned, in his words “a third-class dump, catering to the catch-as-catch-can trade,” but rather, symbolized the darkness of the characters with fresh black paint sprinkled with fresh gold ornaments that might imply the flares of humor that brighten the story. Set designer Jennifer Sanderson fills out the set with a nice old timey telephone. a key-box, a side table and chairs, and the elevator entrance. As it perhaps should be, the lobby of the place is large for its sparse appointments.
Sound designer Will Mikes provides street sounds ranging from car horns and sirens to passing voices and rickety elevated trains, and what seemed to be a ticking clock.
Costumes by Laura Parker work well, probably second-hand brown suits with vests and fedora hats, for Erie, and white shirt and tie for Charlie.
Brook North radiates Erie’s self-doubts and insecurities, covered by his braggadocio and big-time airs, leaving no room for doubt this guy is a two-bit hustler with endless dreams of eventual success. His name-dropping and claims of conquests ring hollow, and North communicates the sense that he knows we know he’s either exaggerating or outright lying. In our laughter, we — in turn — cannot escape feeling a sadness for him.
David Klionsky brings a knack for comic timing to his performance, a Runyonesque streetster’s charm, and range that is shown in such facial expressions as an uncanny ability to laugh through tears, and infect us with his sadness.
Both actors make Erie’s line “I miss him a lot,” the truest words that he speaks all night; and both put the painful bite into the story of having dinner with Hughie and his family.
The Night Clerk sits behind the hotel desk for a full 20 minutes, studiously attending to his own thoughts, as the audience assembles. That his reveries are interrupted by Erie is readily apparent, and that he simply wants to return to them, rather than be engaged by this lout who invades his space. It is a hard acting task to be a silent second banana to a flamboyant and wide ranged, virtual solo character; and these actors pull off that chore successfully.
This show highlights the skill of two accomplished performers and is an opportunity to see the characters as each interprets them. It’s a short play, not quite an hour, so seeing both versions is really worth the trips. Although this not Moon for the Misbegotten, it is a surprising little gem.
SECOND OPINION: June 1st Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the David Klionsky version 4 stars and the Brook North version 2 stars out of 5): http://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2016/06/01/theater-review-two-leads-diverge-in-a-darkened-dive-in-hughie and May 25th mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/hughie/Event?oid=5022014; and May 29th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Jackson Cooper: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7997. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the June 1st Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/06/south-stream-productions-presentation-of-hughie-by-eugene-oneill-is-another-hit-at-sonorous-road/.)
South Stream Productions presents HUGHIE, with Brook North and David Klionsky alternating as Erie Smith at 7:30 p.m. June 2 (Brook as Erie), 7:30 p.m. June 3 (David as Erie), 7:30 p.m. June 4 (Brook as Erie), 9:30 p.m. June 4 (David as Erie), and 3 p.m. June 5 (Brook as Erie) at Sonorous Road Productions, 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27605.
TICKETS: $15, and then $5 a ticket if you come back to see Erie performed “the other way”.
BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or https://www.sonorousroad.com/hughie (scroll down).
Hughie (1964 Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1601 (Dramatists Play Service Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/4564 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hughie (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://hughiebroadway.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/HughieStudyGuideDesigned-FINAL.pdf (2016 Broadway Revival).
Eugene O’Neill (Nobel Prize-winning playwright, 1888-1953): http://www.eoneill.com/ (eOneill.com: An Electronic Eugene O’Neill Archive), https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/5463 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.bard.org/study-guides/about-the-playwright-ah-wilderness (Utah Shakespeare Festival bio), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_O’Neill (Wikipedia).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.