In South Stream Productions’ current presentation of Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie, now playing at Sonorous Road Productions in Raleigh, under the direction of Andy Hayworth, Brook North and David Klionsky swap roles for alternating performances. On opening night (May 27th), North played Erie, and Klionsky played The Night Clerk.
When the curtain rises, it’s three o’clock in the morning when Erie Smith stumbles into the lobby of the “fleabag” hotel where he is a long-term guest. “Key!” he calls out, expecting the Night Clerk (whom he has never met) to know that his room is #492. That’s the first line, but the play has actually begun much earlier. When the audience enters the theater, the Night Clerk is at the desk, doing what he does — nothing — and doing it well.
Hughie is a one-hour interaction between (what the program refers to as) “two lonely bastards,” an interaction that would most appropriately be referred to as a monologue, because Erie does almost all of the talking.
The title character, Hughie, had been this hotel’s night clerk for quite a while. He has recently died. Erie has been “off on a drunk” for five days, mourning his loss. A creature of habit, Erie will now attempt to recreate his guest-to-night-clerk relationship with this replacement. We quickly learn that the interim replacement (“one of them fresh wise punks”) had not passed Erie’s inspection, because Erie “couldn’t tell him nothing,” and Erie is glad to see a different one.
Erie is clearly not satisfied with the emptiness of his life. He has been accustomed to building up his self-image by relating exaggerated (and fictitious) narratives of his exploits to Hughie. And we get the impression that the relationship was mutually beneficial, that Hughie’s life had been vicariously spiced-up as he listened to his friend.
Die-Hard fans of Eugene O’Neill and students of drama-as-literature will be aware of the long descriptions and stage-directions in O’Neill’s scripts. An excerpt of this script can be found on the Google Books website. We highly recommend reading pages 5 through 7 prior to attending the play (or after).
In the second paragraph of his description of Erie, O’Neill states: “In manner, he is consciously a Broadway sport and a Wise Guy — the type of small fry gambler and horse player, living hand to mouth on the fringe of the rackets.” In the third paragraph, we learn that “Erie usually speaks in a low, guarded tone, his droop-lidded eyes suspiciously wary of nonexistent eavesdroppers.” O’Neill’s introduction supplies much more; and last Friday night, Brook North delivered on all counts.
Getting to know a character like this is a treat. His vocabulary is rife with such terms as “dolls,” “bum,” “dope,” “sap,” “sucker,” “puss,” etc. Yet, no matter how hard-boiled Erie appears, there is a vulnerability just below the service that North reveals at poignant moments. There is an obvious note of hopefulness as Erie pitches overture-after-overture to the clerk, looking for a glimmer of a connection. And North shows various levels of dejection as each fails.
David Klionsky plays several notes of sub-text in the clerk’s reactions and non-reactions to Erie. Once again, O’Neill’s stage directions supply such clues as: “The Night Clerk feels that he has been standing a long time and his feet are beginning to ache as he wishes 492 would stop talking and go to bed so he can sit down again and listen to the noises in the street and think about nothing.” Another telling note comes from the script’s introduction concerning career night clerks: “One could even say they had forgotten how it feels to be bored.” And Klionsky plays these to the hilt.
The set, designed by Jennifer Sanderson, is true to O’Neill’s description of a hotel that had been built 20 or so years earlier and “began as a respectable second class” hotel but is now “a third class dump.” We were quite impressed that the clock is actually running, constantly reminding us of the time of night and of the passage of time.
Sound designer Will Mike supplies sporadic street sounds and an underlying ticking of the clock, and there are moments when this tick-tock is all we hear. Time is passing — or is it running out?
Laura Parker’s costume designs outfit the characters appropriately — all the way down to Erie’s rumpled suit, loosened necktie, and mis-buttoned vest.
Hughie might be dead, but he is clearly the main character of this piece. Without a Hughie, Erie is lost; and Erie feels a need to re-create him. We also get that impression that this new night clerk might possibly be able to use Hughie’s memory as a role model, leading to a less humdrum existence.
South Stream Productions’ Hughie at Sonorous Road runs one hour without intermission, Whether or not you are familiar with any of Eugene O’Neill’s other work, this production is an hour well spent.
SECOND OPINION: May 29th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Jackson Cooper: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7997; and May 25th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/hughie/Event?oid=5022014.
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).
SHOW: http://southstreamproductions.blogspot.com/, https://www.facebook.com/events/230385447323819/, and http://www.sonorousroad.com/hughie/.
PRESENTER: http://southstreamproductions.blogspot.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/SouthStreamProductions/.
VENUE: http://www.sonorousroad.com/, http://www.sonorousroad.com/location-hours/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
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).
Andy Hayworth (Cary, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/thehayworth (Facebook page) and https://twitter.com/thehayworth (Twitter page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.