By Jeremy Gerard February 07, 2013 10:00 PM EST
From his electric blonde hair to the boots he wields as weapons, Ethan Hawke fully embraces the role of a rampaging monomaniac in the New Group’s headache-inducing “Clive.”
The opening scene finds the nascent rock star snorting powder off the breast of his manager’s wife, at a dinner party celebrating his recording contract. Before dessert is served, the contract will itself be so much dust.
Offered fame, Clive instead chooses drugs, debauchery and dissolution, which come all too easily from the whorl of sycophants abetting his descent into self-annihilation.
Based on Bertolt Brecht’s first play, “Baal,” a youthfully messy X-ray of Weimar Germany, Jonathan Marc Sherman’s adaptation, aggressively staged by Hawke, takes plenty of risks. They never pay off.
Brecht’s anti-hero was a poet based on Rimbaud (Peter O’Toole played Baal in a famous London production in the early 1960s). Here, Clive, on the road to excess, croaks awful songs and strums a black guitar covered with words in white. Zoe Kazan repeats herself as a naif eager to shed her innocence, and the fine Vincent D’Onofrio, a refrigerator of a man, plays Lucifer, beckoning his prey like the M.C. of “Cabaret”:
“Clive! Let everything go and come with me. To all the other dive bars. To the churches. To the zoos and the barns and the stables. God has forgotten you. Dancing. Music. Booze. Soaking rain. Burning sun. Darkness. Light. Women. Dogs.”
Strutting and preening, Hawke is never less than fascinating to watch. Still, one very long act of just under two hours feels more like the morning after than the night before.
Through March 9 at the Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: *