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January 23, 2013

Clive by Jonathan Marc Sherman, based on Bertolt Brecht's Baal, directed by Ethan Hawke, The New Group

What a disappointment!  I went to Clive because of two actors, Ethan Hawke, who was outstanding recently in Chekhov's Ivanov at Classic Stage, and Vincent D’Onofrio whose superb acting I watch with fascination on “Law and Order CI” and was excited at the chance to see him on stage.  The upshot:  Hawke gives a stellar, energetic, balletic performance in a play that goes nowhere and has no reason for being, and D’Onofrio’s great gifts are beside the point in the role he plays.     

Clive is a talented, successful but self-defeating singer-musician-songwriter whom women flock to and whom he treats badly, one after the other after the other.  That’s pretty much the play.  The four women, all sexually used and rejected in various brutal ways, are hard to tell apart except for one, Clive’s friend’s girl, who stands out because she starts off as virginal and wearing little girl white knee socks  -- virginal for the friend, that is, but not for Clive, who attracts her with his irresistible sexual pull and drives her to death. 

Eventually Clive, having killed another friend, the bearishly good natured Doc, played by D'Onofrio, flees to Canada where he dies dissolutely and decidedly unloved.  This is not a development, because Clive is a dissolute narcissist from start to finish -- he doesn’t change.  That’s the main reason why we don’t need this play.  Hawke is magnetic but he needs a decent vehicle.

Still, it's amazing that he can give so physically and emotionally all out a performance twice on Saturdays!   

D’Onofrio’s greatness lies in his subtlety that lets you know what's going on inside his head -- there are small changes in his face and body language that signal large outward and inward events.  Even when he lets loose emotionally, he illuminates the character, now and through his history.  Here, as Doc, he plays a big guy who mainly squeezes out animal growls and snarls like someone trying not so playfully to scare a child -- not much nuance there.   (Why, Mr. D’Onofrio, would you ever take this part?) 

The set, by Derek McLane, is stunning -- a beautiful abstraction made of the differently textured bottoms of whiskey bottles and beer cans, with an allover heavenly tone of silvery blue.  Open to view when one enters, it makes one all but certain there's a wonderful evening of theater ahead.  There isn't.  Clive's a parcel of wasted talent. 

A reader wrote in with the link for David Bowie's performance in Brecht's BAAL -- well worth a visit:

Clive plays at Theatre Row, The Acorn Theatre, on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through March 9.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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Your analysis is really correct – a waste of talent, a boring evening with really no redeeming features whatsoever other than the stage set, and much of the acting. I would’ve preferred to seeing a really good adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal , which was the model for this production. That, at least would’ve had some historic interest.

I hate cringing through a play. Thank you for the honest review.I think actors get bored and put on plays like this to entertain themselves more than the viewers, and really what else would donofrio be doing? Making more direct to dvd movies and eating his way to a heart attack.

Yvonne Korshak said:
I hate cringing through a play, too! Even though most actors don't have the resources to put on plays to please themselves these do and I had the same feeling you did -- that Hawke especially just wanted to play that part, in Bowie's style. D'Onofrio -- well -- I'd sure love to see him in a play with a REAL part. Thanks a lot for writing! Yvonne

That's an interesting point about "at least it would have some historical interest." Also you might want to check out the link to David Bowie doing Brecht's BAAL at the bottom of the review. Many thanks for writing in! Yvonne

Do you usually 'review' plays when they're still in their first week of previews? Don't plays often change a lot during the preview period?

I keep it in mind, when seeing a play in previews, that sometimes the actors are less sure, or flub some lines, etc., and of course I write that off (not the case here, they were very well rehearsed, very smooth, and Ethan Hawke went through that strenuous performance as if it were his second skin.) Actually, except in the unusual "Spiderman" kind of to-do, plays don't change that much as I've learned when I've seen them early and late in their runs. In the case of Clive, its problem is basic. By the way, I'm invited as a reviewer to review plays while they're in previews all the time. I appreciate your writing in a lot! Thanks.

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