‘Hughie’ Not a Win for Whitaker

WhitakerHughie

By: Dontré L. Conerly

By the time Forest Whitaker takes his final bow for the curtain of “Hughie,” most other plays on Broadway are only ¾ of the way into their first act. Eugene O’ Neill’s 60-minute play—in which Whitaker makes his Broadway debut—usually shares the billing with another work to extend both the time and value of a night out at the theatre, if not to also provide a sense of completion to a work that lacks a sense of purpose and leaves the audience without a takeaway.

Wood and Whitaker in 'Hughie'

Wood and Whitaker in ‘Hughie’

We are introduced to Whitaker, as “Erie,” when he stumbles into the cavernous lobby of the hotel where he’s rented a room, off and on, for nearly the last two decades. Over the years, he befriended the hotel night clerk, “Hughie,” whom he would regale with tales of all-night drinking and gambling benders—and the bedding of multitudinous blondes he tends to favor. Both Hughie and Erie have befallen bad times of late; the former recently deceased and the latter on a losing streak since his friend’s untimely departure.

Dodging creditors and unable to sleep, Erie strikes up a conversation with the newly-hired night clerk, transferring his storytelling to this unlucky fellow (played by Tony-winner, Frank Wood), who listens, stoically, while his patron drones on, ad infinitum, in a single-note monologue, punctuated by the occasional rummaging through his pockets. Every now and then, the night clerk may ask a question or muster a reaction to one of Erie’s tales, but he’s mostly stone-faced, staring off into the distance while Erie chatters away.

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It’s hard to fault Whitaker for the play’s failure, as he imbues as much life as he can into Erie, portraying a man who is lonely, broken, and empty. This role simply doesn’t provide the space for much of the incredible acting we have come to know from Whitaker over the years. A sharp contrast to the quiet fortitude of “Cecil Gaines” in “The Butler,” Erie is a one-dimensional character who spends the length of the work attempting to establish himself and is then abruptly disposed of. It’s an admirable performance by Whitaker in a work that seems unfinished.

Hughie won’t garner any awards for the Oscar-winning actor, but it does (further) highlight Whitaker’s range. To see the towering actor shuffle around the stage as a meek, rambling gambler is incredible to watch. . . . but this privilege comes at quite the cost for a short, 60-minute play.

‘Hughie’ runs through June 12, 2016, at the Booth Theatre.

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About Dontré Conerly

Dontré Conerly is a freelance multi-media journalist with over a decade of experience. A veritable man-about-town, he reports goings-on for many publications, including World Bride Magazine and HarlemWorld Magazine, most recently. Conerly served as the Arts & Culture Editor of HarlemWorld Magazine and, for a time, its Editor-in-Chief. As the News & Culture Editor for BLEU Magazine, Dontré authored an online column, titled, Entre Nous, where he offered commentary and critique of social and political zeitgeist. His writings have also appeared in Metro and amNY, two of New York City’s most widely-read daily newspapers. Taking his talents to television, Dontré appeared as one of the hosts of BKLIVE! the flagship news broadcast on Brooklyn Independent Media. Conerly received his Masters from the prestigious Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, and a Bachelor of Communications from New York University. A native of New Orleans, LA, he currently resides in historic Harlem, NY.