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: https://www.google.com/search?q=david+bowie+baal+youtube&aq=0&oq=david+bowie+baal+y&aqs=chrome.1.57j0.7017&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
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.
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