Photo: Kevin Berne.

Harry Clarke

Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley, CA

Written by:
Toba Singer
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With two parts “Six Degrees of Separation,” one part “Being There,” and a spicy rub of Imposter Syndrome leavened by a light pass of polymorphous perverse, Billy Crudup rustles up a sumptuous meal out of “Harry Clarke.” With character development credibly passing for wizardry, audience laughter registers from sympathetic to raucous. You leave musing, “Could there be a Harry Clarke in each of us that Crudup’s Phil and Harry conspire to unmask?”

Philip Brugglestein, as his last name might suggest, toggles from bewitched to bewitching. He is suffiently enamored of the proper English accent he affects to flee the flatline Indiana identity his parents burdened him with. When he finally decides to bolt, he flies to New York. Successive flights of imagination result in reinventing himself as a cockney inflected tosser, wanker, and full-on unapologetic, good-time bloke. He christens this bolder-than-thou alter “Harry Clarke.” Then, spotting an unassuming customer in a cafe, as his human shield, Harry, timid Phil does something he has never done in his life: stalk a stranger. This results in Harry and Phil becoming privy to information that proves indispensable over time. Harry kneads it into a ball of wax that his now-friend Mark finds irresistible. Phil chisels Clarke’s identity into a growing, living starter, handily portable. Harry feeds on it parasitically, the better to meet tantalizing demands tendered by the real-life strange members and circumstances of an erstwhile stranger’s family.

Crudup seamlessly interpolates lockstep pivots with a fluid warmth that honors each of the several characters. They require enough range to accommodate myriad conflicts, dialects, and corresponding body language. He inhabits them fully to narrate a story rife with thrills, spills, and angst-inducing foreshadowing. Kudos to the impressive two-person team of playwright David Cale, whose unerring ear for language is the production tuning fork, and director Leigh Silverman, whose deft hand demonstrates an organic sensibility for timing, elaboration, and an instinct for meeting Crudup’s mastery of the “beat” with an action plan that translates prescient to presence.

The initially short run has been extended to December 23 increasing chances of getting tickets for a show you should not miss!

Toba Singer

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