I would dearly have loved to like The New Group’s production Clive. It’s an original show, written by Jonathan Marc Sherman, based on Brecht’s Baal. The direction by Ethan Hawke is tight and imaginative; Hawke also plays the title role with panache. Other members of the cast include the winsome Zoe Kazan, and towering Vincent D’Onofrio. The setting is appropriately the 1990’s, a time of profligate spending and over indulgence. This also explains Hawke’s spiky bleached Billy Idol hairdo.
The problem is that the action centers around the hedonistic journey of a totally despicable character named Clive; his better qualities include sadism, total narcissism, and misogyny. At his worst, Clive is also a rapist and a murderer. The plot, such as it is, follows Clive’s downward spiral, beginning with a coke party at the home of a music industry bigwig, whom Clive insults into tearing up his contract. The fact that Hawke himself is an accomplished singer and musician adds to the sense of wantonness of this stupid move.
In fact, Hawke’s personal charisma and obvious talent are the only things that keep Clive from being so unsympathetic that the audience immediately ceases to care about him completely. Nothing else explains why women are so drawn to him. In his leather outfit, often bare-chested, and with his guitar always nearby, Hawke does indeed exude the bad boy sex appeal that many misguided women find appealing. Like a moth to the flame, the virginal girlfriend of a buddy (Kazan) falls into the sack with Clive; the record producer’s wife finds him irresistible; every woman he meets is beddable, and if she’s unwilling, no matter.
Just when you think Clive couldn’t be more loathsome, he tops himself. It’s not enough that he proclaims that “Love is like a coconut, to be spit out when the juice is gone;” or that he shows his true colors in his declaration “Women and trees are both dirty.” When his girlfriend, who proclaims her great love for him, no matter what, turns up pregnant, he calls her a “fat tub of lard,” and insists that she should drown the baby. The show becomes ever more confusing as Clive seems to be sexually involved with his friend, Doc (D’Onofrio); jealousy comes into the picture. We finally see Clive dying alone, after having been urinated on by a fellow flop house resident. As he crawls through the door to his final demise, there’s not a wet eye in the house.
For those who haven’t experienced Brecht’s Theatre of Alienation, be advised that there are techniques involved which are specifically calculated to eliminate the fourth wall. The audience is at no time supposed to forget that they’re watching a play, and that this isn’t real life. Accordingly, a character will intone “I burst into tears,” reading the stage direction along with the action. There’s also a Marat/Sade type scene set in an asylum, with everyone shouting.
It’s somehow strangely fitting that this production begins as Once does, with musicians onstage playing together. Clive is the very antithesis of that gentle, loving show; the only similarity is that they both continue to feature music and singing throughout.
Why choose something so unappealing for this group of gifted actors? The production has a twisted sort of Mickey-and-Judy “Hey kids, let’s fix up the barn and put on a show” about it.
There’s something fun for everyone in the group to do, and you know these are parts they’d never get to play otherwise. I can see it being effective as Black Box Theater, with no sets or costumes. It would be a swell second stage production at a drama school, something to occupy the students who didn’t make it onto the Main Stage. As it is, it just feels like an exercise to occupy name actors between higher paying jobs.
But recommend Clive? Oh, hell no. I came out of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof feeling that I needed a drink. I came out of Clive feeling like I needed a shower.
Photo Credit: Monique Carboni
410 West 42nd Street
Thru March 9, 2013
410 West 42nd Street
Thru March 9, 2013
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.