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Off-Broadway Review—Billy Crudup in “Harry Clarke”

Harry Clarke

Written by David Cale; directed by Leigh Silverman

Performances through December 10, 2017

Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, New York, NY


Billy Crudup in Harry Clarke (photo: Carol Rosegg)

One of our most accomplished stage actors, Billy Crudup delivers a tour de force performance in Harry Clarke, a solo play by David Cale. Crudup effortlessly portrays Philip Brugglestein, an American who takes on the identity of a Britisher he names Harry Clarke to escape his small-town Midwest upbringing and moves to Manhattan, where he meets Mark Schmidt, a strapping young WASP from Connecticut, and his heavy-drinking family—all of whom he dupes into believing that “Harry” was once pop singer Sade’s personal assistant. He soon beds Mark, Mark’s sister Stephanie, and even their mother Ruth, making his own life (as Philip and Harry) complicated indeed.


The conceit of Cale’s clever if misogynistic and ultimately misanthropic one-acter is that the actor is onstage alone for entire 80 minutes, not only speaking as Philip but also as Harry, whose voice fluctuates between a standard (to American ears) British accent and more outlandish Cockney one. He also speaks the parts of Mark, Stephanie and Ruth, among others. 


The glory of Crudup’s bravura acting is his shifting gears among all of these differing and at times competing accents while narrating this initially amusing then deeply troubling story about how this nondescript kid from Indiana fooled several people—including himself—into thinking him a big shot from London, a place that Philip has never been to. (Crudup even credibly sings a couple of Cale’s sly songs.)


Crudup, who from his first Broadway forays (in the original production of Arcadia and opposite Mary Louise Parker in Bus Stop) has been a talent to be reckoned with, has gone from strength to strength onstage, from Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia and Arcadia revival to Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot


But his prestidigitation in Harry Clarke, juggling so many different accents and, even more impressively, disparate characterizations, is what makes this flawed play—disturbing in its implications of how a man can so cavalierly ignore others’ well-being, whether his lover or his lover’s vulnerable sister or even more vulnerable mother—worth attending.


Harry Clarke

Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, New York, NY

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