In what is a pretty underwhelming, fairly short play (slightly under an hour), Eugene O’Neill’s “Hughie” does provide the theatre-goer with two good performances.
Presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company and directed by Doug Hughes, “Hughie” is set in a 1928 New York City third-rate hotel lobby. When the play opens we gaze upon the hotel night clerk, Charlie Hughes (Randall Newsome), who’s bored beyond belief. To pass the time he imagines himself engaged in the various activities he hears outside. This is relayed to the audience through the play’s constant voice-over. His boredom is broken when Erie Smith (Richard Schiff) enters the lobby.
Over the course of the play, Erie unburdens himself to Charlie…and burden it is. From Erie himself we learn that he’s a gambler–horses in particular–whose luck has taken a turn for the worse since the former hotel night clerk, Hughie, died. In fact, he’s in mourning and hasn’t been himself since Hughie first went to the hospital. Charlie is more than anxious for Erie to go up to his room so he can get back to daydreaming, but after a few fits and starts, the two begin to take to one another. As that happens, Erie begins to feel his luck might be changing for the better.
And that, my friends, is “Hughie.” In short, out with the old, in with the new.
Schiff is very good as the down on his luck gambler. You can literally feel the loneliness…the weariness…oozing out of his bones. As the new night clerk, Newsome compellingly portrays tolerance turning into interest and friendship as he begins to take a shine to Erie.
But good performances aside, this feels like a slight of a play. When it’s over, you’re left wondering, “Is that all there is?” The short answer is, “yep.”
Through March 17
Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC