Most of us have an Erie Smith in our lives; the kind of friendly, but terribly needy soul who chatters incessantly at us rather than with us. We listen more out of kindness than interest- or maybe we halfheartedly tune in because we too, desire human connection and a reprieve from the monotony of life.
Smith is the roving vagabond portrayed by Forest Whitaker in Eugene O’Neill’s brief, but sad revival of Hughie. Erie, whose name derived from his native town in Pennsylvania, has just returned from a five day drunk binge and is greeted by the new night clerk (Frank Wood) in a dilapidated 1928 New York City Hotel. Christopher Oram’s hauntingly beautiful set is as cavernous and hollow as Smith himself.
The 60 minute lamentation takes Smith to places and events which may or may not have happened, but his primary focus evolves around the former night clerk, Hughie, who has recently passed. Hughie’s replacement (Wood) isn’t nearly as jovial and engaging. No amount of enthusiasm from Smith can rouse him to interest.
Whitaker is a naturally warm actor whose likeability on film has easily transferred to the stage. There is a quiet desperation in his performance that gently guides the most hardened of hearts towards a place of empathy. The ever solid Wood provides the right amount of aloofness and despondence.
Like any O’Neill play, you’ll probably want to sit this one out if you’re feeling a bit depressed. Neither of the characters in this two hander will be auditioning for a Laurel and Hardy remake anytime soon.
Hughie plays a limited run on Broadway at the Booth Theatre (West 45th between 8th and Broadway) through March 27th, 2016. For tickets and information, visit the box office or Hughie on Broadway.