BWW Review: iTheatre Collaborative Presents Eugene O'Neill's HUGHIE
History notes that near the end of Eugene O'Neill's literary career and just prior to completing his masterpiece, Long Day's Journey Into Night, he composed HUGHIE, a one-act two-character play ~ for the most part a monologue ~ that echoes his absorption with the three horsemen of his artistic vision ~ addiction, death, and redemption.
Erie Smith is a down-in-the dumps gambler and con man. The kind of fast-talking cigar-chomping hustler that prowled "the Big Stem" (i.e., Broadway) in the Roaring '20's and was adept at feeding on the sucker that was born every minute. In the wee morning hours of a New York night, he stumbles into the lobby of the dump of a hotel that he inhabits and proceeds to lament to Charles the night clerk that he's had a run of bad luck since Hughie, Charles's predecessor, died.
In iTheatre Collaborative's current revival of this gift of a playlet, Greg Lutz becomes Erie, accent and manners and angst and all. It's a masterly performance that captures the nuances and idiosyncrasies of this nighthawk's character. You feel Erie's fatigue, his desperation, his grief, his hunger for just one more mark, and his fear of letting go of the moment. While the moment occurs within the breadth of only an hour, marked hauntingly by the ticking of a wall clock, you feel that this is Erie's long night's journey into day.
Christopher Haines is remarkable as the Night Clerk, a role that requires the actor to stand mostly silent for the length of the play, a seemingly passive receiver of Erie's recollections. What makes his performance remarkable is that he is playing off a script by O'Neill that details the Night Clerk's every motivation and action. He is not as passive a soul as the "night clerk look" might make him out to be.
It is in the final moments of the play that the chemistry and co-dependence that linked Hughie and Erie make sense and that now align the Night Clerk and Erie in common purpose. Not all is as it seems.
HUGHIE runs through April 15th at the Herberger Theater Center's Kax Stage.
Photo credit to iTheatre Collaborative