While I was on grand jury duty, ticket discount offers came pouring in, but I couldn't take the time to look at all of them. However, when the name Vincent D'Onofrio was in the subject line of a ticket offer, I pounced. I had no idea he was going to be doing a play with the New Group this season! After much trial and error of buying a ticket via my iPhone (I need one of those password apps!), I got a discounted ticket to Clive. Without knowing a thing about it. Sometimes, crushes can get you into trouble...
After a little more research, I discovered Clive is loosely adapted/based on Brecht's Baal. Intriguing. I've never seen a production of Baal. It was adapted by Jonathan Marc Sherman, whose plays I have enjoyed in the past, and it was directed by Ethan Hawke, whose work I have enjoyed in the past (but not always, if I'm being totally honest). So, I figured I was in for an interesting evening, no matter what. But THEN I heard from several friends that the play was, um, perhaps, not quite ready for audience consumption. Hmmmm. Oh well, what the heck. I decided to take a chance.
OK. So. Honestly? This production did not make itself known to me. I found it mainly to resemble an acting school project. The cast was enjoying themselves in the extreme, and seemed smug and self-satisfied in their knowledge that they were the cool kids updating Brecht. I didn't find that so enjoyable. I know that Brecht didn't really believe in naturalism, or empathizing with character. OK. But I don't think 'alienating' the audience by being pretentious and self-indulgent was the alienation effect Brecht was talking about. Although, if that was Brecht's intent: job well done. I'm guessing, however (and this is just a guess, I'm not an expert in Brecht or epic theater), that this adaptation didn't quite go far enough. It used several 'Brechtian' principles, like direct address, and songs, and the speaking of stage directions, in an inconsistent way. And not in an offputting, theatrical inconsistency, but rather a 'let's throw that in' kind of way that didn't make the piece entirely successful. And having characters in the insane asylum be the ones to espouse the principles (No emotion! Just the words!) seemed so cliche. All I could think was: Symbolism much? Sigh. In my opinion, of course. There were several audience members who seemed quite engaged and committed to what was going on.
Having said that, I will say that I found Vincent D'Onofrio's acting to be quite good, but I AM predisposed to enjoy his work. He's an imposing physical presence and he used that to great effect - the juxtaposition of his largeness and the minute detailing of his characterization is intriguing. Ethan Hawke, just like in Ivanov recently, had to walk across a thin tightrope, playing an antisocial anti-hero, and after awhile, his slacker-ish affect just didn't work for me. Unless the goal was to turn me off. Then, I guess, it worked. He looked great, though.
Actually, everything LOOKED great. I thought the physical production was very impressive - the set and lights and costumes were terrific, and I thought Ethan Hawke put together some intriguing and attractive stage pictures. So...I don't know. Maybe this was the best adaptation of Baal ever done and I just wasn't open enough to see it. All I know is I felt vaguely intrigued once or twice, but was mainly annoyed throughout. Smug is never my favorite theatrical attribute. I think the show opens tomorrow night, so I'm prepared to have my reviewing hat handed to me. I'm not sure the critic I sat next to last night was having a good time, though. But I've been wrong before.