Billy Crudup Gives Master Class in Acting, Rebellion, Seduction
by Barry David Horwitz
Never have I seen one actor evoke so many separate moods, twitches, and traumas—at breakneck speed. Brilliant Billy Crudup inhabits 19 characters in “Harry Clarke,” each unique and alarming. Is he gay or straight? Is he warped by rejection?
For starters, he’s not Harry Clarke at all—he’s an Illinois boy named Philip Brugglestein who speaks up with a posh British accent at age 8. His angry father accuses: “Lois, he’s speaking like an Englishman again!” The kid unnerves father, family, friends. At top speed, Crudup channels each voice delightfully. We are rapt from the get go.
On a cool, magnificent wooden deck on the ocean, Billy Crudup gathers power and inspiration from the rejections that are heaped on little Philip. A long fence with blue lights shining through boards places him between heaven and sea, a natural wonder, himself.
As his hidden personality of Britisher Harry Clarke begins to emerge—slowly, slightly, then confidently—Crudup unveils the depths of internal manipulation and maliciousness. This chest-jutting Cockney asserts himself over “polite” culture, taking outrageous, illicit liberties.
Crudup gives a Master Class in acting, constantly transforming himself physically—he can be an older woman, a macho bro, or a naïve girl. Erupting from inside his body, his voice runs the gamut, his mannerisms shock.
Daring Harry takes over Philip’s body and his mind. At last, he can rebel and pursue the wealth his poverty has denied him. No longer a poor New York barista, Harry becomes a wolf seducing the wealthy and arrogant, female and male.
Playwright David Cale’s 19 characters each fit Crudup’s acting genius. They talk directly to us, acting upon each other. Harry’s inspired mischief climbs the social ladder easily.
As Harry, Crudup comments on his alter-ego’s daring escapades. Harry takes over one day and stalks a stranger through New York streets. When he finally meets that stranger, Mark Schmidt, at a theater, he amazes Schmidt with detailed knowledge of his life.
Harry becomes a daring Cockney adventurer who spreads his brash sexuality to victims in the wealthy Schmidt family. Crudup embodies each of the victims with subtle physical movements. As a guest on their yacht at Newport, he cajoles, entertains, and seduces.
With just a step or a tone or a slight grimace, Crudup evokes whole new personalities until we are steeped in his story and in Harry’s brash opportunism. Is Harry Clarke a parable for our times—when people can live out their most daring lies online? Is Harry Clarke an instrument of revenge for an outsider?
Director Leigh Silverman orchestrates the ideal show for a predatory but sympathetic personality. Billy Crudup is the ideal actor to perform the nuances of the resulting battle between haves and have-nots.
Can a fake Cockney adventurer destroy all the sexual and moral barriers we have constructed and emerge triumphant? You can find out with delight and surprise, thanks to the solo spin by consummate actor Billy Crudup at Berkeley Rep.
“Harry Clarke” by David Cale, directed by Leigh Silverman, scenic design by Alexander Dodge, lighting design by Alan C. Edwards, sound design by Bart Fasbender, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, from Vineyard Theatre, New York. Info: BerkeleyRep.org – to December 23, 2023.
Cast: Billy Crudup (Philip Brugglestein/Harry Clarke)
Banner photo: Billy Crudup (Harry Clarke). Photos by Kevin Berne