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2/26/16

Hughie's Costume and Set Design...Oh, and Hughie

I don’t know where I read this little diddy - it probably was some snarky meme on Twitter or Tumblr - but I recall reading it, laughing and agreeing.
 
“That moment when you exit the theatre, turn to your friend and say, “well, the set and costumes were great!"
 
Yep. That right there. That was my post-show reaction to Hughie, which opened last night at the Booth Theatre.
 
Because seriously…the costuming and set design by Christopher Oram, ESPECIALLY the latter, are FLAMAZING! Forest Whitaker’s costume is what it is - a beige suit with a subtle plaid paired with a waistcoat. He was never not gonna command a presence dressed so perfectly as Erie, a yarn-spinning gambler mourning his present misfortune and the death of his only friend, Hughie, the former night clerk of the hotel he frequently adorns.
 
Which brings me to the marvelous hotel set. It looks like a hotel from the late-20's hopped into a time machine and touched down at the Booth. The floor tiling, the faded bronze and gold flourishes, the old-school architectural detailing on the elevator shaft (dumbwaiter shaft?) and stairway...everything came together so perfectly, it took my breath away upon first glance. When paired with Neil Austin's smog-filled and ominous lighting design - which was also stellar - the stage looks like equal parts a dream and a nightmare, effectively becoming another character in the show. Which, hey, that can only be a welcome adjustment when a play features two characters (one of whom hardly speaks).
 
Unfortunately, the scenic design is squandered by...just about everything else. This isn't Eugene O'Neill's most enthralling work and it too often evokes a one-man show with a long-ass monologue. Talk about some limiting parameters...and with the entirety of the show resting on an uninteresting, condescending 'protagonist' - seriously Erie, get your head out of your ass, take some of your gambling money and buy yourself a clue - no wonder the dialogue monologue goes in one ear and hurries out the other.
 
So, we've established that this is Eugene O'Neill on an off-night. While Michael Grandage and Forest Whitaker have their considerable talent, the combination of the two leaves a lot to be desired. Grandage's direction of Hughie has no urgency or flair, which is quite baffling considering Erie is a smooth-talking hustler talking about his gambling exploits. And Whitaker plays Erie way too safe and understated for an already small-scale show (translation: he was boring). And the night I saw the show, Whitaker seemed trigger-shy with his line delivery, leading to several unwelcome pauses that destroyed any chance for flow.
 
But at least the set and costumes were great, amiright?! However, from my vantage point, those are not enough to send patrons back out into Times Square feeling like they got their money's worth from a Broadway play. If I worked at the Booth Theatre, or at least in their product sales/merchandise sector, I would milk that set for all its worth and start selling post cards and framed photographs. Rest assured. I'd buy one of everything. Hell, after Hughie wraps its run, break down the set and sell it at the Broadway Flea Market next year. I'll start saving to buy some pieces now, not bluffing here...
 
 
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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