Thursday, February 7, 2013


Mark Ruffalo and Vincent D'Onofrio at the  Opening Night After Party. 

'‘Clive’ Has Mood and Atmosphere but Little Else'


By David Sheward | Posted Feb. 7, 2013, 8 p.m.

Photo Source: Monique Carboni

The right mood and atmosphere are essential for a successful theatrical presentation, but they only go so far. Jonathan Marc Sherman’s “Clive,” directed by and starring Ethan Hawke, has Derek McLane’s perfect sleazy setting, Jeff Croiter’s evocative lighting, and Gaines’ dark music to tell a somber tale of decadence and self-destruction. Unfortunately, the jumbled script and sloppy staging provide only unrelenting chaos and shallow characterization.

A program note describes “Clive” as “based on, inspired by, and stolen from” Bertolt Brecht’s first play, “Baal,” which was greeted with boos and critical disgust at its 1923 premiere in Leipzig, Germany. The nihilistic story follows the title character, a narcissistic poet, through a series of episodic adventures in which he lives only for pleasure. In Sherman’s update, Clive is a brutish, drug-addled rock musician who rejects a lucrative recording contract to devote himself to hedonistic pursuits. After deflowering a teenage girl who subsequently commits suicide, Clive joins the mysterious Doc on an alcohol-soaked road trip that ends in a shabby shack in the wilds of Canada. Here a broken-down Clive breathes his last as fishermen mock him by repeating “A rat dies in the gutter. Who cares?” I had the same reaction after 90 bleak minutes of constant gloom, with no insight into Clive’s reprehensible behavior or the society that created him.

Sherman attempts to re-create Brecht’s famous alienation effect by having the characters speak the stage directions and directly address the audience, but these devices come across as gimmicks and never succeed in shocking us into recognizing that we are watching a play or considering that our world is just as nightmarish as Clive’s. A few of the 21 scenes—or “shards,” as Sherman describes them—work. The opening sequence, in which Clive and his cohorts play Truth or Dare at the penthouse of a music executive, has a real sense of edgy danger, but it’s mostly downhill after that.

Hawke projects the proper debauched world-weariness and in the musical portions is convincing that Clive possesses talent but has wasted it. He also imparts a measure of the impish charm that makes this louse attractive despite his scummy actions. However, the character’s repetitive downward spiral overwhelms the actor’s inventiveness. As Doc, Vincent D’Onofrio offers an outrageous Western accent but not much else. In the multiple-role-playing ensemble, which includes the playwright, only the witty Brooks Ashmanskas creates a quirky and memorable set of loony horrors. Even the remarkable Zoe Kazan, as a series of Clive’s conquests, is reduced to simpering and batting her eyes.

It just goes to show that when both the director and the author are in the cast, an objective eye is lacking, and the production suffers.

Presented by the New Group at the Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC. Feb. 7–March 9. (212) 239-6200, (800) 447-7400, or www.telecharge.com. Casting by Judy Henderson.

Critic’s Score: D

'Theater review: ‘Clive’ at the New Group'


Clive, written by Jonathan Marc Sherman, directed by Ethan Hawke. Ethan Hawke, Zoe Kazan in "Clive"


Ethan Hawke plays a wasted 1990s rocker in 'Clive' and Zoe Kazan is one of his conquests.
  • Title: 'Clive'
  • Venue: Acorn Theatre
  • Location: 410 W. 42nd St.
  • Price: Tickets: $60
  • Phone: (212) 244-3380
Ethan Hawke’s hair is bleached Billy Idol blond. His attitude is darkened to bleak, nihilistic black.
The choices are fitting for “Clive,” a wearying new play Hawke directs and stars in. He plays a wasted ’90s rocker who’s a serial deflowerer and dumper of women.
When one of those girls searches post-coitus for her dress, Clive sneers: “Here. I found it on the floor, right next to your virginity.”
Clive is such a general-purpose creep (and, eventually, murderer) that his inevitable demise inspires only indifference. Or as characters in the play put it: “A rat is dying in the gutter. So what?”
That damning little question echoes the impression left when all is said and done in this show by the ever-uneven New Group.
So what?
The puny impact is dismaying, since the full-length one-act by Jonathan Marc Sherman, who also acts in it, is “based on, inspired by and stolen from” Bertolt Brecht’s first play, “Baal.”
In 1923, at its premiere in Germany, Brecht’s work was deemed so provocative that it was closed down after one performance.
Too-hot-to-handle has cooled considerably 90 years later. The most intriguing thing about “Clive” is Derek McLane’s striking set, which comprises doorways, beer cans and baubles. But there’s no sense of danger or real daring or sharp commentary.
There is lots of Acting with a capital A. And Posing, with a capital P. Hawke, who strums a guitar and sings a bit, strikes plenty of those poses. Ditto castmates including Vincent D’Onofrio (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”), as Clive’s burly buddy, Doc, and Zoe Kazan, who plays a couple of doomed conquests.
The outsize acting goes with this theatrical territory. Brecht isn’t about slice-of-life subtlety and dramatic illusion. He doesn’t reflect life, but holds funhouse mirrors up to it. Characters utter stage directions, like “I’m sobbing uncontrollably now.”
The bare-naked Brechtian approach to theater can create its own rules and a fascinating world. But not here. Unlike the magnetic bad-boy seducer at its center, “Clive” has no pull.

''Clive' review: Ethan Hawke directs, stars'


Published: February 6, 2013 4:51 PM By LINDA WINER linda.winer@newsday.com
From left, Mahira Kakkar, Stephanie Janssen and Ethan
Photo credit: Monique Carboni | From left, Mahira Kakkar, Stephanie Janssen and Ethan Hawke in "Clive," written by Jonathan Marc Sherman, directed by Ethan Hawke, opening Feb 7, 2013.

A note in the program of "Clive" places us in the 1990s, but promises we will "also hear the future and the past."
Well, I'm not betting a big future for this raucous, ambitious, ultimately tiresome 100-minute odyssey, except for people who want to appreciate the irresistibly watchable Ethan Hawke as he directs and stars in another of his self-challenging theater adventures.
But the past -- now that is all over the messy-moonscape stage with the corrugated wall patterns and the free-standing, dislocated doors. There's the obvious past, Bertolt Brecht's 1922 "Baal," from which the playfully smart playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman professes to have "stolen" the idea of a poet on a downward spiral of debauchery and self-destruction.
But "Clive" is also a throwback to downtown experiments in the '60s and '70s, especially Sam Shepard's 1972 poetic-musical play, "The Tooth of Crime," about sex and violence as rock warfare. Hawke, with a discipline that only looks like feral recklessness, leather pants and platinum-blond spikes, plays the title's rebel. He's a chick magnet who walks away from a record executive (Sherman in one of a variety of amusing sleazy roles), snorts his dope, seduces his wife, deflowers a virgin (Zoe Kazan in one of a variety of man-killing roles) and begins his descent to a bad death in -- wait for it -- Canada.

You see, this is silliness -- dense in a rich sense but also dense in the dumb sense, with bits of tangy poetry about our divided natures and much bad poetry about trees. People narrate their own action, a bit like Brecht, and play snatches of familiar songs -- from Elvis to Kurt Weill -- that mingle with the original sounds by the art duo/sculptors known as Gaines.
Best of all, Clive is shadowed by Doc, a mysterious hulk of a bald man with a drawl, who happens to be the first stage character Vincent D'Onofrio has played here since the late lamented "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." D'Onofrio doesn't say much, but he is perfect -- scary, fearless, able to slide music from a guitar's neck and unashamed to climb a ladder in fluffy angel wings. His is a future worth contemplating.

'First Nighter: Clive'

David Finkle

Ethan Hawke -- who directed and plays the title character in Jonathan Marc Sherman's Clive at the New Group's Acorn home -- begins by singing Doc Watson's "You Must Come In at the Door." He staccatos the folk-y threnody as if he were Tom Waits, and the rendition couldn't be more intriguing.
Moreover, it's a promising beginning not only for the song and the delivery (Hawke's on guitar, too) but because the "door" motif obviously dictated Derek McLane's commanding set which features seven free-standing weather-beaten doors. Beside those, there's a fringe of tinsel-like stalactites hanging over the stage where much of the action takes place in a grey conversation pit.
All to the good, so far, but that's where the not-so-good seeps into a script that Sherman has adapted from Bertolt Brecht's rarely-seen Baal, a series of scenes depicting the downfall of a benighted poet. Sherman's idea is to update the proceedings and turn the eponymous Baal into rock troubadour Clive running amok in brutal Brechtian strokes.
The free-falling Clive and sidekick Doc (Vincent D'Onofrio, with head shaved and feeling free to embroider on his disturbed Law & Order: Criminal Intent detective, Robert "Bobby" Goren) pass through several sequences that relentlessly involve life's down-trodden.
Having sung his song, Clive immediately antagonizes an entertainment executive (the more-than-ready Brooks Ashmanskas in the first of many roles), who unceremoniously tears up a lucrative contract in Clive's face. Whereupon, Clive comes into increasingly less rewarding contact with sharp operators, women of varying low degrees, a murder, an insane asylum, you-name-it-if-it's-depressing-and/or-anarchic.
The problem with Sherman's version -- perhaps with Brecht's as well -- is that there's no momentum to the succession of scenes. Rather, they merely become repetitive and pointlessly nihilistic. Worse, the accumulation of seedy locales serves as encouragement for Hawke, D'Onofrio, Ashmanskas and six others (the usually superb Zoe Kazan, among them) to wallow not in characters but in caricatures.
This is particularly disturbing with Hawke, normally one of the City's most accomplished stage figures. His recent appearance as the title malcontent in Anton Chekhov's Ivanov at CSC is one example of his powers. Another, his New Group Hurlyburly turn in 2005 was arguably the best performance by an actor that year. Possibly, as director this time, he couldn't see clearly enough what his leading man was doing.
Brecht, born in 1898, wrote Baal in 1918 when he was 20, though it wasn't produced until 1923. It's a young man's play -- the determinedly grim view of the world (not necessarily something the playwright ever completely abandoned) not surprising. Young men are habitually gratified at announcing to their elders how dreadful the world is, and in Germany's post-war period, Brecht had much to go on.
On the other hand, Sherman -- who was discovered via Woman & Wallace, written when he was 19 -- is no longer a kid, and this sort of pretentiously sophomoric material, possibly excusable in a young aspirant, is unbecoming in a playwright approaching middle age. The world of Sherman's play -- a program note says enigmatically "The 1990s, but you can also hear the future & the past" -- seems to emerge from nothing so much as a need for Sherman to pass himself off as important.
On the way out of the theater after the 90-minute, no-break piece, one dissatisfied customer was heard to remark, "If there'd been an intermission, no one would have come back." That about sums it up

'Rocker on the Eve of Destruction ‘Clive,’ With Ethan Hawke and New Group, at Acorn Theater'


Ethan Hawke has been dying a lot in recent months. Having taken on the depressive, suicidal title character of Chekhov’s “Ivanov” late last year, he is now portraying another existentially challenged, terminal case in “Clive,” Jonathan Marc Sherman’s latter-day variation on Brecht’s “Baal.” While there are big differences — it is now Brecht instead of Chekhov, after all — the road to the grave, as mapped by Mr. Hawke, feels much the same: fretful, feverish and, ultimately, fatiguing.

Mr. Hawke deserves props for being a movie star who regularly ventures onto terrain where Broadway angels fear to tread. “Ivanov” and “Clive” are both early works from challenging dramatists that are notoriously difficult to get right. While Mr. Hawke’s characters are the unconditional centers of their plays, they are also anything but easy to love.

What’s more, he does not take the star’s prerogative of dominating the proceedings.“Ivanov,” staged by Austin Pendleton for the Classic Stage Company, and “Clive,” which opened on Thursday night at the Acorn Theater in a New Group production, are very much ensemble efforts. So I regret to say that neither show has been all that well served by its leading man or for that matter by its director, who in the case of “Clive” happens to be Mr. Hawke.

A decade or so ago Mr. Hawke, now 42, a writer as well as an actor, would have seemed a natural to play Baal. Written by Brecht in 1918, when he was only 20 and filled with contempt for the German theater of his day, “Baal” is an angry young man’s play about an angry, unwashed young artist of charismatic talent and equally magnetic destructiveness. He’s a grubby, convention-smashing outlaw poet (or poète maudit) in the great Gallic tradition of François Villon and Arthur Rimbaud.
Structured in fatalistic fragments that bring to mind Büchner’s “Woyzeck,” “Baal” courses with the sap of early manhood, when pleasure is an end in itself, and life seems both beautiful and damned. Though its portrait of a polymorphously perverse antihero (who would happily have sex with a tree) is unlikely to shock audiences today as it did in the 1920s, “Baal” still has the potential to electrify.

The current that flows through “Clive” is oddly sluggish, though, and it only rarely gives off sparks. Set in the 1990s by Mr. Sherman (“Sophistry,” “Things We Want”), Brecht’s tale of a degenerate society assumes the air of a wearily confirmed prophecy acted out in a world where everyone has by now been there, done that. And as embodied by Mr. Hawke with spiked iridescent gray hair and an expression of eternal tiredness, Clive (as Baal has been rechristened) comes across less as a satanic catalyst than just another rotten apple on a dying tree.

Mr. Sherman — who is also part of the acting ensemble, along with Vincent D’Onofrio and Zoe Kazan — has stuck close to the form and content of Brecht’s text. Of course the locale is now Giuliani’s New York instead of Augsburg, Germany, around 1911, which involves certain changes of detail. Mood-altering powders are now ingested as well as high-proof brandy; a lumberjack’s camp has been transformed into a shooting gallery; and Clive is a promising singer who performs in downtown dives instead of the oral poet of the docks that Baal was.

This means that there’s a fair amount of music in “Clive,” including a few bleak American ballads about heaven and hell (performed by Mr. Hawke in the vein of an exhausted, midcareer Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen), some snatches from the Brecht-Weill “Alabama Song” and, most ingeniously, musical doors. You heard right. Each of the free-standing doors in Derek McLane’s set has been equipped (via the sound design of Gaines) with hammers, bars and strings that allow the performers to summon tunes from them.

But if it’s not impolite to ask: Why? Are we to infer that the capacity to elicit the music of the spheres lies not just in Clive but also in everyone? In that case why are other characters so keen on signing Clive to record contracts or nightclub gigs, especially given Mr. Hawke’s rather lackluster musical performances?

There’s an argument to be made that “Baal” is as much a picture of an inhuman society as of a monstrous individual. Mr. Sherman has saidthat in translating “Baal” to the late 20th century he was struck by “how little people mistreating people has changed.” And Mr. Hawke has spoken of the “despicable” nature of everyone in the play, all propelled by “an id at work.”

But if you carry this point of view to its ultimate leveling conclusion Clive’s story is stripped of conflict. It’s hard to get worked up as Clive seduces, abandons and destroys an assortment of friends, lovers and strangers. Finding a compelling dramatic tension in Brecht, whose goal even then was to keep his audiences at a thoughtful distance, is never easy. But there should be energy at least in the execution, in the sly creation and subversion of illusions.

The cast members — who also include Brooks Ashmanskas, Stephanie Janssen, Mahira Kakkar, Aaron Krohn and Dana Lyn — do appear to be enjoying themselves, incarnating various lost souls and speaking their own stage directions in character (an interpolation by Mr. Sherman). And Ms. Kazan, for one, makes you share that pleasure as she seems to draw instant Etch A Sketch cartoons of women done wrong by the rapacious Clive. (She is helped by Catherine Zuber’s amusing virgin-vamp costumes.)

Mr. Hawke, who was excessively agitated as Ivanov, plays Clive in a more minor, subdued key, which is a surprising choice for a character meant to be an irresistible force. What magnetism there is in this production is generated by Mr. D’Onofrio, one of the great wild-card actors of his generation. (Even if you’ve seen him only as the troubled Detective Goren on “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” you’ll know what I mean.)

Speaking, for some reason, in a down-home Southern accent, Mr. D’Onofrio portrays the rough-hewed, hedonistic Doc (Eckart in “Baal”), Clive’s best friend and probably his lover. Even delivering annotative lines like “They exit,” Mr. D’Onofrio exudes a gleeful, dangerous heat.
When he yells to Clive to come out and play in the dark, dark woods, it’s the call of the wild. It’s a sound that also fleetingly raises the pulse of a show that is, for the most part, strictly flatline.

'Clive: Theater Review'


Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Clive, inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s 1918 work Baal, mainly demonstrates that unplayable works don’t get any more accessible even when updated to modern times. Starring Ethan Hawke as a dissipated rock musician on a fast track to self-destruction, this amorphous drama severely tries one’s patience even as it wastes the talents of an estimable cast that also includes Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) and Vincent D’Onofrio.
Reset to 1990's New York City, the play follows the basic structure of Brecht’s original play, which is rarely performed these days for a reason. Its choppy, episodic narrative quickly proves repetitive, making the same tired points over and over.
Sporting spiky silver hair, Hawke’s narcissistic singer/songwriter Clive is clearly a basket case, addicted to any number of substances and abusing every woman who comes into his path. Whether snorting cocaine off one of his female conquest’s breasts or hosting a sadistic version of Truth or Dare, he’s a thoroughly repellant character whose eventual downfall fails to spark interest.
Sherman’s adaptation, dubbed “a play in 21 shards,” is indeed jagged in its elliptical style. Running a seemingly interminable 105 minutes, it depicts the title character’s nihilistic interactions with a variety of seedy characters. Among them is Joanne (Kazan), his friend’s virginal 17-year-old fiancée who he cruelly seduces and then promptly discards with tragic consequences, and his best friend Doc (D’Onofrio), who both observes and is complicit in Clive’s wanton behavior. Eventually he too becomes a victim, stabbed to death by Clive in a fit of drunken violence.
As with Brecht’s original piece, several songs are interpolated into the proceedings, most amusingly "The Alabama Song" (from the playwright’s operatic collaboration with Kurt Weill, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny), sung by Hawke in his singularly raspy voice. Adding to the exotic atmosphere is the original music and sound design created by the art duo GAINES, which has the actors making impromptu music using elements of the set.
The piece’s expressionistic style is heightened by such scenes as when Clive and cohorts gather around the corpse of a dead junkie while wearing masks, sunglasses and fedoras. Other out-there elements include Doc’s propensity for barking like a dog and his eventual ascent into heaven with a pair of angel’s wings strapped to his back.
Hawke, who also directed, delivers an intense, admirably committed performance that nonetheless fails to make much of an impact. D’Onofrio, making a too rare NYC stage appearance, is impressively fearsome in his physicality, with his bald pate and extra poundage recalling his psychotic young soldier in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. The waif-like Kazan is movingly fragile as the doomed Joanne, while playwright Sherman and Brooks Ashmanskas ably fulfill a variety of supporting roles.
But eventually the production proves to have little reason for being, failing to provide an emotionally resonant modern-day version of its admittedly difficult source material. It mainly comes across as an actors' exercise, one that is undoubtedly more fulfilling for its creatives than for the beleaguered audience.

'Review: Ethan Hawke mines noir humor in ‘Clive’'

This undated theater image released by Seven17 Public Relations shows Vincent D’Onfrio, left, and Ethan Hawke, in a scene from "Clive", a production by The New Group performing off-Broadway at Theatre Row in New York. (AP Photo/Seven17 PR, Monique Carboni)
This undated theater image released by Seven17 Public Relations shows Vincent D’Onfrio, left, and Ethan Hawke, in a scene from “Clive”, a production by The New Group performing off-Broadway at Theatre Row in New York. (AP Photo/Seven17 PR, Monique Carboni)
NEW YORK (AP) — If you want to find beauty and meaning in life, it’s probably a good idea to stop looking for it in your mirror.
Bertolt Brecht’s first full-length play “Baal,” written in 1918 when Brecht was a 20-year-old university student, was a nightmarish expressionist drama about a dissolute poet-musician seeking inspiration through sex and drugs.
The New Group’s modern-day production, “Clive,” set in the 1990s and directed by and starring Ethan Hawke, opened Thursday off-Broadway at Theatre Row. Visually interesting and well-acted, the dark play tells a tragic story with brittle, noirish humor and mockery.
A series of often-mysogynistic scenes crash past in fragments, featuring Hawke as antihero rock musician Clive. “Any story that can be understood is just a badly told story,” says one character blithely, which helps explain the disjointed misadventures of Clive inventively staged by Hawke.
Playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman, who also performs a few roles and plays the piano, claims in a production note that he used the 1922 German version of Brecht’s work via a Google translation. A funny idea but, one hopes, not completely true.
For a portrait of debauched self-indulgence, Hawke has well-cast himself, featuring a wild-haired, punk-rock appearance and manic grin. Clive is allegedly undertaking a search for beauty and meaning in life, but he’s conducting it via complete self-gratification and abandon, primarily by seducing a series of pretty young women and then discarding them like so much trash.
Hawke succeeds at conveying his character’s combination of childlike selfishness combined with adult cruelty, as Clive’s boozing and drugging and lust and treachery send him into a downward spiral of deterioration. While Clive does many despicable things, Hawke also makes him magnetic and at times almost sympathetic. Increasingly despairing, Clive observes, “I always believed in myself but I fear I’m becoming an atheist.”
Brooks Ashmanskas brings a special zest to his roles, which include a cuckold, a showy landlord, a priest (so Clive can mock God) and others. Vincent D’Onofrio gives a solid, appealing performance as Clive’s friend Doc. True to form, Clive eventually screws Doc over, too, as he degenerates into homicide.
If you think the many female characters all look alike, that’s because three women play nearly all of them. Zoe Kazan is especially fragile, yet tenacious and sensual, in her portrayals of two virginal young girls who are stolen by Clive from his friends, then treated like dirt. Stephanie Janssen, Mahira Kakkar, Aaron Krohn and Dana Lyn ably round out the cast; Lyn also provides lovely violin and piano music.
Catherine Zuber’s sexy, punk-inspired costumes and the lighting, sound and music designs, which include instruments mounted on doors, add to an atmosphere of dreaminess and dissonance that envelops this tale of Clive’s self-destruction.
Derek McLane’s spare set design includes a hanging, silvery curtain made of hundreds of twisted beer can pieces, which call to mind Clive’s irretrievably broken soul and all the lives he shattered on his reckless road to ruin.