ABOVE AND BELOW: Emmy and Tony Award-winner Billy Crudup stars in David Cale’s dazzling Harry Clarke at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre through Dec. 23 Photos by Kevin Berne
There’s no question here: the show to see this season is Billy Crudup starring in David Cale’s Harry Clarke at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Alone on the stage of the Roda Theatre for 80 minutes, Crudup creates an entire world of fascinating, flawed people, and at the center of it all is a man whose life is, in a way, theater.
That’s the genius of Cale’s play. He has created a story about acting and playing characters, but it’s not at all about the theater (except for one scene that takes place at a play). It’s about a continuum of being someone other than who you really are, and it goes from creating and playing a character for fun, excitement and challenge (or, perhaps, to shield oneself from the pain of the real world) to believing you are that character to fully crossing over into a state that could yield a mental health diagnosis.
Working with the seamless direction of Leigh Silverman, Crudup takes every appealing thing about his movie and television characters and populates the stage with people who want to be dazzled (entertained? overwhelmed?) by a forceful personality who will exert some influence on their lives. If that kind of charismatic, forceful person doesn’t actually exist, well then, he may just have to be invented.
The less you know about the plot of Harry Clark the better because it’s unraveling is so deliciously enticing. Cale has created an improbable but highly entertaining play with sharp twists and turns peppered with hearty laughs even though it’s not a comedy. And there is Crudup, handsome and in total control (even when the characters are not), making it all look effortless (when surely it’s not). The momentum that he, Cale and Silverman create is so propulsive, so captivating that the end comes far too quickly. And even though the play’s conclusion is a little too easy, you still don’t want your time with Crudup and his stageful of personalities to be over.
Crudup is a beguiling storyteller who is both inside and outside the play – a fascinating place to be for an actor – but it also happens to be where his main character lives as well. Inside and outside his own life. Crudup has the advantage of a sharp playwright guiding the action and a subtle but perfect design team – Alexander Dodge (set), Alan C. Edwards (lights), Kaye Voyce (costume), Bart Fassbender (sound) – to help shape the world that he conjures so effectively mostly just by standing and delivering (with a skosh of adorable dancing and singing).
It’s a stunning experience full of imagination (of a mostly R-rated variety), gusto and thrilling theatricality.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
David Cale’s Harry Clarke continues through Dec. 23 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Running time: 80 minutes (no intermission). Tickets are $22.50–$134 (subject to change). Call 510-647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org.
If you can’t make it to Berkeley Rep (or, if the show sells out, which it is likely to), Crudup’s performance was recorded in 2018 off Broadway by Audible and is available here (along with Cale’s one-man show, Lillian).