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Hughie

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ARTICLES / REVIEWS

Pacino's Star Turn in a Pipe Dream, August 23, 1996, BY VINCENT CANBY, NY Times

    So much as is possible for an actor appearing before a paying audience, Al Pacino likes to protect his privacy in the workplace. He doesn't appreciate kibitzers. He also has the box office clout to sell tickets no matter what the professional opinionmongers say.
    Thus it wasn't until Wednesday night that he invited critics to see his production of Eugene O'Neill's "Hughie" at the Circle in the Square, where the two-character, one-act play has been in previews since July 25, following an engagement at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven.
    It's now apparent that Pacino knew what he was doing. However long he took to do it, he got it right. The word this morning: bravo!
    Although "Hughie" is essentially a monologue that runs less than an hour, it's a full, richly eccentric and satisfying evening of theater. This is a star turn that serves America's most grandly obsessed playwright and allows us to see what Pacino can do, as both the director and an actor, when he disciplines his sometimes raging talents.
    "Hughie" is a very odd piece that O'Neill himself (in a letter to George Jean Nathan in 1942) suggested was "written more to be read than staged." It's the only play he completed in the projected cycle "By Way of Obit," which was to be a series of two-character plays in which one person evokes the memory of someone recently deceased to someone else, who is mostly a listener.
    The time of "Hughie" is 1928, and the place is the lobby of a small, once respectable second-rate hotel on a West Side street in midtown Manhattan. The place is now only slightly better than a flophouse. In the late hours of a very long night, Erie Smith ( Pacino), a failed Broadway sport, gambler and horse player, bends the ear of the uninterested night clerk (Paul Benedict). Erie is just coming off a five-day drunk triggered, he says, by the funeral of the previous night clerk, Hughie.
    Erie picks up his key, but he won't go up to bed. He seems rooted in the lobby and unable to shut up, his manner by turns aggressive, boastful, self-pitying and maudlin. He talks a little about himself but mostly about Hughie, who seems to have been just as colorless and passive as his present listener, whose name turns out to be Charlie Hughes. No relation, of course, but it's enough of a coincidence to prompt Erie to think of the years when he knew Hughie as the good old days. He says he hasn't had a winner since Hughie was taken to the hospital.
    In some ways, "Hughie" plays like a footnote to "The Iceman Cometh." The word "pipe dream" is never used, but pipe dreams are the subject. As Erie rambles on, it becomes clear that he sees himself as having made life bearable for the forlorn Hughie. Erie dazzled Hughie with the "tramps" he brought home and introduced as Follies girls. Hughie was equally thrilled by stories (possibly exaggerated, Erie admits) of legendary crap games and winning bets on long shots. Hughie saw Erie as the trusted confidant of the mob bosses for whom, in reality, he was never more than a gofer. At the same time, of course, Hughie's admiration bolstered Erie's waning self-esteem.
    "Hughie" is a kind of extended seduction scene in which Erie tries to implicate his new friend Charlie in his own fabulous vision of himself.
    At first Charlie is simply tired, or, as O'Neill writes in a stage direction, his eyes are "blank," having "forgotten how it feels to be bored." In this production Charlie is not quite as taciturn as O'Neill wrote him. The inner thoughts O'Neill gave him in the stage directions are now spoken by Benedict as soft asides, heard as if through an echo chamber. They're initially jarring, sounding a bit like sci-fi sound effects that have little to do with 1928. Yet they also allow the written character to be more fully understood onstage.
    Pacino's performance is something of a wonder, helped by but certainly not dependent on his wardrobe: a cheap tan suit (the coat belted in the back), a Panama hat with the brim turned up all around, brown-and-white shoes (the kind the English call brothel-creepers) and socks of pearl gray. It's the mind inside this ghastly outfit that animates the entire evening.
    Though Pacino seems to be all over the stage, his is not a busy performance. It's big, but it's one of controlled exhaustion. His body suggests the fragile, tentacled mass of some sea anemone, leaning this way and that, twisting in the unseen current of his own panic. It's a performance you see in close-up, no matter where he stands in the Circle in the Square's usually awkward space.
    Benedict is also superb. A big man with a granite face, he succeeds in making himself look empty, thin and slightly prissy, all signs of individuality having been worn away by time and neglect of the imagination. He's a perfect foil for the desperate Erie.
    The physical production is as good as any the Circle in the Square has recently presented. David Gallo's set is minimal: the hotel desk, a large clock, a couple of ugly lobby-type chairs and an expanse of once fairly handsome marble floor. Backing everything is a dark cyclorama that suggests both the city outside and the expressionistic stage designs of Robert Edmond Jones, who worked on many of the original O'Neill productions. Note, too, Candice Donnelly's costumes and Donald Holder's lighting.
    "Hughie" was first done here in 1964 with Jason Robards and Jack Dodson, directed by Jose Quintero. At that time, critics were inclined to resist the play's small scale and short running time. I suspect we're more adaptable now, especially when attending something of the quality of this production. Yet you'll have to hurry. The original Aug. 31 closing has been extended only to Sept. 14.

By Eugene O'Neill; directed by Al Pacino; sets by David Gallo; costumes by Candice Donnelly; lighting by Donald Holder; production stage manager, Jack Gianino. Presented by the Circle in the Square, Theodore Mann and Josephine R. Adaby, co-artistic directors. At 1633 Broadway, at 50th Street.

WITH: Al Pacino (Erie Smith) and Paul Benedict (Night Clerk).



Pacino on Stage", By Robert Hurwitt, Examiner Theater critic, Monday, June 28, 1999 San Francisco Examiner

    He's in "Hughie,' a short play by Eugene O'Neill
    LOS ANGELES - "I been off on a drunk," Broadway hustler Erie Smith tells the night clerk at a flea-bag hotel. The way Al Pacino says the line, you know he's talking about a binge that explains an absence of four or five days. And that this is part of a longstanding routine.
    "Come to now, though," he rasps in a voice hoarse with substance abuse but oiled for the well-practiced spiels of an inveterate con man. "Tapering off," he adds without much conviction that he believes the words himself. His face is gaunt and sports several days worth of whiskers. His eyes are hollow, searching but deeply fearful. His clothes look dirty, rumpled, slept in, his wide-lapeled suit hanging loosely from the slouched, defeated shoulders of his weary frame.
    As closely identified with Hollywood as he's been for several decades, Pacino is only now making his L.A. stage debut, despite a long and distinguished stage career in New York, his hometown (and, at times, on tour, as in the "American Buffalo" he performed in San Francisco in the '80s). He opened Sunday at the Center Theatre Group's Mark Taper Forum in Eugene O'Neill's "Hughie," in a production he also directed and performed in New York three years ago.
    A late addition to the Taper's season, the show replaces Athol Fugard's "The Captain's Tiger," canceled after Fugard withdrew from performing in his dramatic memoir (as he had at the La Jolla Playhouse last summer and in New York this season). Pacino's name alone virtually assured a box office success. The show's entire limited run (through July 25) had sold out before opening night, although the Taper has reserved a limited number of bargain $12 tickets for each performance, available by lottery two hours before curtain.
    Artistic success is something else again. Many in the audience may leave the theater wondering how well their attendance has been rewarded. Not quite an hour long, "Hughie" is a remarkably short day's journey into night, for one thing, especially for O'Neill. The author rather famously wrote to a friend (critic George Jean Nathan) that he thought the final script might be "written more to be read than staged."
    Nor is it exactly compelling theater. Pacino delivers a bravura performance in the principal role, more than capably supported by veteran stage and film actor Paul Benedict (also a noted director, of - among many others, Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney in the original "Kathy and Mo Show," as seen at the Eureka Theatre). But Pacino's carefully articulated, sharply detailed performance feels strangely distant and, ultimately, uninvolving, a factor that ends up making this intimate play seem small.
    Written toward the end of his life, in 1941, when O'Neill was living at Tao House in Danville, "Hughie" was part of that last onslaught of creative activity that also produced "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "The Iceman Cometh" and "A Moon for the Misbegotten." It is the only surviving script of what was intended to be a series of eight "obit" plays, closet dramas in which one character would talk to another about a recently deceased third.
    It remained unperformed until 1958, when it was staged in Stockholm, in Swedish. It received its U.S. premiere in '64 in a memorable production starring Jason Robards and directed by the late Jose Quintero. Pacino's revival, however, is something of a different play. He's opened up the script, in a sense, making it as much metaphoric as realistic, as well as - from an actor's standpoint - more democratic.
    As staged by Quintero, "Hughie" was essentially a monologue for a bravura performance by Robards as Erie - a Broadway man-about-town in his own mind, a petty gambler in reality, very much down on his luck and achingly lonely, rambling on to the bored, inattentive night clerk at his flea-bag residential hotel. As staged and performed by Pacino, "Hughie" is more of a duet for two lonely souls in a heartless city.
Pacino has padded the part of Charlie (Benedict), the night clerk, doubling his lines by having him speak snippets of his thoughts as his attention wanders from the longwinded man who won't shut up and go to bed. In Jon Gottlieb's clever sound design, Charlie's thoughts are echo-miked to distinguish them from his actual replies to Erie - a device that would work well for the spoken inner thoughts in O'Neill's earlier experiments with expressionism.
    The sad-sack reflections, drawn from O'Neill's stage directions - "Nothing exciting has ever happened any night I ever lived" - are apt, and delivered with perfect indifferent resignation by Benedict. But they also alter the focus and import of the play, leavening the pathos of Erie's pitiably transparent self-glorification ("No one could ever call me a sap") with more than a little dry humor.
    David Gallo's stunning set telegraphs Pacino's metaphoric approach, with its expressionist Manhattan cityscape behind thick scrims and schematic blue-black and gray lobby with its floating clock, desk and rack of mailboxes. Donald Holder's dusty shafts of light and the exaggerated clock ticks and street noises of Gottlieb's sound design lean to the metaphoric, as the frayed armchair, spitoons and Candice Donnelly's period costumes connect with the realistic detail of the performances.
    There's a compelling desperation to Pacino's Erie, as he rambles on about Hughie, the previous night clerk whose death touched off the drinking jag he's been on. The pathos of the character grows the more hollow his boasts appear and the clearer it becomes that the man he continues to mock and belittle was in reality the only friend he had.
    But there's a lack of palpable connection with the audience. Pacino could've used a director to help him enlarge his performance and break through a third wall that feels too solid for a production with so many unrealistic design elements. Where Robards' Erie overwhelmed with its depiction of pain in self-denial and delusion, Pacino's feels small, remote and self-contained. It's a beautifully crafted characterization that seems more suited for film than the stage.

 

"Hughie Review from Variety", By Robert Hofler, June 29, 1999

A Center Theatre Group/Music Center of Los Angeles County, Mark Taper Forum and Gordon Davidson presentation of a one-act play by Eugene O’Neill. Directed by Al Pacino.

    Eugene O’Neill might be surprised to learn he wrote so funny a work as "Hughie." His one-act two-character drama about a dissolute gambler and the hotel night clerk who half-listens to his ramblings is the vehicle for Al Pacino’s L.A. stage debut, and rarely has the sacred umbilical cord between actor and audience been in such need of severing.
    After a splendidly eerie cacophony of jazz music, big city street noise and a low bass buzz right out of David Lynch, Pacino — also the play’s director — enters stage right to face night clerk Charlie Hughes (Paul Benedict). He raises one hand as if to grab something, but before he can say what that is — "Key" — the audience takes over: There is the obligatory star-entrance applause. Pacino lets his hand fall. Within the next hour, we will see no greater symbol of defeat than this dropping of Pacino’s hand. He looks around the stage floor, shuffles a bit, then begins again. "Key," he says finally. Unfortunately, the mood of that early morning entrance has been broken.
    Moments later, Pacino’s Erie Smith tells the night clerk, who is new on the job, that for the past four or five days "I’ve been off on a drunk." Erie’s only friend, the previous night clerk Hughie, has just died. But from the sound of stage and audience guffaws, we’ve left O’Neill’s ultimate hellhole of no exit for some sunnier clime on the Upper West Side of New York City. "The Odd Couple," anyone?
    The fun times continue when the night clerk gives voice to his many interior monologues, these asides coming to us through the echo chamber of electronic amplification. Obviously, he isn’t listening to a word Erie says — until the play’s very end, when it is too late and he replaces Hughie as the gambler’s new dupe. From the sound of it, the Mark Taper audience delights in Charlie Hughes as just another two-faced old codger.
    Even O’Neill didn’t quite know what to do with the night clerk’s asides. He wrote "Hughie" in 1942 (or 1940, depending on which source you believe) and never saw it staged. "Let whoever does it figure it out," he said of performing the play. "I wouldn’t want to be around to see it."
    On the page, with its many interior monologues and copious stage directions, "Hughie" reads like an exquisite, harrowing short story. Previous productions, starring Jason Robards and Ben Gazzara, omitted the night clerk’s asides, which O’Neill wrote as part of the stage directions. Pacino includes them, and his concept pushes "Hughie" from the realistic to the expressionistic, two styles O’Neill experimented with throughout his career.
    Pacino’s direction is aided here by Donald Holder’s lighting design and David Gallo’s set, which features a series of enormous triangular scrims upstage, interrupted by a window into an equally angular, vertical cityscape. A huge clock hangs ominously overhead. We have clearly entered the world of "Metropolis" or perhaps "The Cabinet of Doc Erie Smith."
    With his great hulking presence and stone slab of a face, Benedict belongs to this place, even if his amplified asides never quite set easily — at least with this audience.
    Pacino, in contrast, is all soft edges — even his costume is flowing cream linen — and he gives a performance that belongs in a more naturalistic, less stylistically sinister production. He presents an amazing arc here, beginning with flippant remorse at the loss of Hughie to nearly claustrophobic despair at his own hopelessly solitary condition and then finally miraculously rejuvenating himself to defeat at dice yet another night clerk as gullible as his beloved Hughie.
    Eric Smith is some piece of work, one of O’Neill’s smaller, nastier creations. He can brag of nothing but booze, gambling and escaping the love of women who tried "to make a sucker" out of him. James Tyrone in "Long Day’s Journey Into Night" at least has the memory of a real talent and a real love of his wife, however destructive that relationship eventually became. Even Col. Cornelius Melody in "A Touch of the Poet" probably once loved his wife — at least, before he had to marry her — and he certainly remembers all too well the camaraderie of battle. These two plays bracket "Hughie" in O’Neill’s enormous canon of dramatic literature. The playwright, however, is at his most nihilistic here. Erie Smith has no past worth recalling. He loved Hughie, but even this scintilla of humanity was built upon a lie and a con. Erie is definitely pathetic, but the one thing he should never be is lovable. With his signature eye-popping and arms flailing in a voluminous costume, Pacino is, for the most part, the classic sad sack, and when he cons the new night clerk into replacing Hughie in a game of dice, he is, finally, the sly fox. Quite a guy, perhaps, but hardly the man of one’s worst nightmares.

Set, David Gallo; costumes, Candice Donnelly; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Jon Gottlieb; stage manager, Jon Gottlieb. Opened, reviewed July 27, 1999. Runs through July 25. Running time: 1 HOUR.

 

 

TRIVIA

Okay for you Pacino fans who want a "Taste of Al" ;) Here are the drinks from Otto's Grill & Beer Bar next to the theater.


Photo by T. Charles Erickson
at the Long Wharf Theatre.
From the collection
of Herbert Frank

HUGHIE  -  (sauza tequila, cointreau, cranberry juice & a squeeze of lime juice)
SCARFACE  -  (Absolut Citron with Anejo Patron with lemon twist garnish)
SEA OF LOVE  -  (sauza tequila, midori, a splash of pineapple juice, orange wedge garnish)
DOG DAY AFTERNOON  -  (smirnoff vodka, Campari and grapefruit juice)
GODFATHER  -  (scotch and amaretto)
SCENT OF A WOMAN  -  (Smirnoff vodka, chambord and cranberry juice with a hint of Roses lime and raspberry garnish)
All drinks served up in a chilled martini glass.

(I tried the "Hughie" and found it good though a bit strong! --Susan)

 

 

 

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