Theater review: Dold cuts through noise with solid performance in Barrington Stage's 'Harry Clarke'
PITTSFIELD — Harry Clarke is a brash, conceited braggart.
Give him a moment of your time and he might tell you he spent the last 20 years working as the tour manager/personal assistant for the singer Sade. He might tell you, in his cockney accent, that he's from London and how he ended up in New York on a whim. He might tell you he's single because he's "never met the right bird."
What he won't tell you is it's all a lie. Harry Clarke is a liar; a con man. He is not someone you are supposed to like. So why then, do we lean in to hear this man's story? Perhaps it's because it's not his story, at least not in the beginning when it's being told by Philip Brugglestein, a barista, from Indiana, with a posh English accent.
"I don't remember much about my childhood," he tells us, "but I remember laying out on the football field at school in South Bend, Indiana, with this kid ... saying, 'I could be myself if I had an English accent.'"
And shortly thereafter, this Midwestern child begins speaking with an English accent and meets Harry Clarke — a confident, assertive, more outgoing version of himself — for the first time.
The one-man thriller directed by Barrington Stage Company's Artistic Director Julianne Boyd and starring Mark H. Dold, runs through Sunday, Aug. 16. The play, which opened for previews Wednesday, became the first Actors' Equity-approved drama production in the nation to open since the onset of COVID-19. A day later, Berkshire Theatre Group's production of "Godspell," became the first Actors' Equity-approved musical to open.
Originally slated to open on BSC's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, "Harry Clarke," would have been the first indoor production sanctioned by Actors' Equity since COVID-19. A week prior to opening, the company was notified that Gov. Charlie Baker was planning to delay implementation of Phase 3, Step 2 of the commonwealth's reopening plan, which allows indoor theatrical productions. The production moved outdoors to the Tartell Family Outdoor Stage, under a tent in a parking lot adjacent to the former Polish Community Club on Linden Street.
"Theater, live theater, is very important," Boyd told Sunday night's audience, seated on folding chairs spaced 6-feet apart, at the beginning of the show. "We wanted to do it as soon as possible, indoors or outdoors. Five days ago, we held our first tech rehearsal [outside] in the middle of a hurricane."
Unlike its counterpart, "Godspell," with its cast of 10, staging "Harry Clarke" doesn't require changes to accommodate health and safety mandates. There are no Plexiglas partitions, face masks or plastic shields on stage. COVID-19 precautions for patrons are barely noticeable: contactless ticketing, temperature checks, hand-sanitizing, socially-distant seating and masks that must be worn at all times.
The biggest challenge of COVID-19 for this production, for the audience, is noise. "There will be traffic," Boyd warned. As if to prove her point, an ambulance, sirens wailing, passed by only a few minutes into Dold's performance. He paused, made a joke and carried on.
Otherwise, Dold is clearly audible as he freely walks about the sparse stage weaving Harry's tale, transforming into the 19 characters we meet along the way by adopting their personas, voices and mannerisms.
Dold's performance is solid; mirroring the text, which starts off somewhat rushed as Philip speeds us along those early childhood memories, skips ahead to his move to New York, pushing us ever forward to the day that Harry decides it's time to take over and force Philip to step out of the shadows.
As we get to know Harry Clarke, we come to learn he's a sociopath, reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith's "The Talented Mr. Ripley." But Harry Clarke is not a stolen identity, an alter ego or an imaginary friend. He's part of Philip's identity, a full-blown second personality, who's been waiting to take the reins for some time, who Philip welcomes with open arms.
Dold captures the simpatico relationship of the two personalities perfectly in his performance. Philip is timid, apologetic and all too willing to let the bolder Harry take over, to do things he can only dream of. Dold's Harry oozes confidence and sexuality, there's a bravado in his walk that Philip doesn't have.
But for all his confidence, Harry needs an audience, even if that means, letting Philip have the stage for a minute or two. Together, they draw us in. We're fascinated as the tale unfolds, never questioning if our narrators are reliable. And it doesn't even matter if they are or not. Because, haven't we all, at some point, wondered what it would be like to be someone else?
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