Hughie, the Eugene O’Neill show is currently playing at the Lansburgh, and is a meticulously put together production from the direction and set to the acting. This 55 minute one act show takes place in real time in the lobby of what was once an opulent hotel in Manhattan that has seen better days, with paint peeling off the walls and windows that look as if they hadn’t been cleaned in ages. The show is largely a monologue by Erie Smith, played by Richard Schiff, returning to the hotel/his home in the middle of the night after going on a bender after the former night clerk of the hotel, Hughie, has died. There he encounters the replacement night clerk, played by Randall Newsome, who is ostensibly listening to Smith regal him with tales of Hughie. Newsome vacantly stares as Smith tells his tales while clearly not listening to the drunken ramblings about Hughie. The director, Doug Hughes, makes a wonderful choice in having a voice over periodically provide insight into the mind of the new night clerk by having the voice over read stage directions to accompany some background sound going on. For instance, the sound of a fire truck or train passing by and the voice over tells of the night clerk’s distraction as he counts the minutes until morning. The production also used the filthy windows and some old oil paintings to project images of places or faces to accompany the story that Erie was currently telling, until they melted away.
If you are a fan of Richard Schiff from his days on West Wing you will get a very different character in both personality and look. Erie is a small-time gambler who loved to get a reaction from Hughie, whether by regaling him with his tales of gambling or bringing home his conquest of the night. In one breathe he would speak down about how Hughie lived his life and let his wife dominate him, but at the same time you feel as if Hughie was one of the few, if any, people that truly cared for Erie. Schiff carries the show throughout as he never quite sits still, as he drunkenly tells the story of Erie through his experiences with him at the hotel, track, Hughie’s home, and at the hospital in his final days. And through these tales of Hughie you get not only the picture of Hughie but the picture of Erie, which is of a sad and lonely man who received validation of his life from the night clerk at the rundown hotel he is living in. While Newsome did not have nearly the dialogue Schiff has in this show he does an excellent job of portraying a night clerk willing to engage a resident arriving in the middle of the night, but with growing disinterest as that resident continues talking for the better part of an hour in the middle of the night.
I’d also note that the running time of 1 hour was perfect. As the show goes on I was drawn into the story of Hughie, but at the same time I felt the uneasiness of the night clerk. The one hour, one act show was the perfect running time. Any less and the story wasn’t going to feel complete, but any more and that uneasiness that was developed may have become more overwhelming. But the show hit the mark perfectly there too.
Up Next: The Convert at Woolly