By Byrne Harrison
At his best, Erie Smith, the protagonist of Eugene O'Neill's Hughie, is a small-time, wannabe wise guy living on the shadowy fringes of the glamorous life in Manhattan. At his worst, he's a washed up nobody spending what little money he can hustle on booze, women and gambling.
Most nights as he drags himself home to his fleabag hotel, he's at his worst.
Rather than seeing himself as the loser he is in the harsh light of the shabby lobby, he's lucky enough to see himself reflected in the eyes of Hughie, the night clerk. As he spins tales of his adventures - throwing dice and winning the jackpots, bringing home the Follies girls, being in on the big deals - he basks in Hughie's admiration, and for a little while, he can believe that he is the high-roller he wants to be.
But now Hughie is dead.
Coming in from a three-day bender, Erie wants nothing more than to stave off a little of the loneliness and frustration. Unable to fully engage the new night clerk, Erie starts talking. Effectively a long monologue, this one-act play slowly spins out the tale of a dissolute life and its effects, and a friendship that made it almost bearable.
For Hughie to be effective, the actor playing the lead must be engaging at all times. David Tawil succeeds admirably. Cocky and sure one moment, lost in a bitter place the next, Tawil shows a great understanding of the ebb and flow of this character, and gives an outstanding performance.
The role of Charlie, the new night clerk is more problematic. He is primarily a sounding board, and most of his few moments of dialogue are his thoughts about Erie, rather than actual engagement with Erie. Director Aaron Gonzalez helps the audience follow this by using projections on a wall behind Charlie to indicate that he is having "internal monologue" moments. While these projections are used to great effect in the beginning of the play to set the mood and time period for the audience, they seem a little intrusive in these introspective moments. When combined with Dean Negri's overly forceful acting during these internal monologues, the result is unsettling.
Hughie features a minimal set by Claire Karoff, which includes some cleverly crafted set pieces - an elevator and a revolving door. Rus Snelling's moody lighting design is effective.
A touching play about profound isolation and crushed dreams, O'Neill's Hughie is brought to life admirably in this production.
Written by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Aaron Gonzalez
Set Design: Clair Karoff
Lighting Design: Rus Snelling
Projection Design: Aaron Gonzalez
Stage Manager: Kiersten Armstrong
Featuring: David Tawil (Erie Smith) and Dean Negri (Charlie Hughes)
American Theatre of Actors
314 W. 54th Street, 4th Floor
Thurs.-Sat., October 1-3, 8-10
Tickets available through SmartTix