ABET’s next production is unique for theatre in this area. First of all it is a one act play and secondly the admission is only $10.00. Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie, will be on stage April 3, 4, 5 10, 11 at the Community Center in Atlantic Beach. Since I would be out of the city for the entire run, ABET allowed me to come to a dress rehearsal to do this review. I felt it was important since O’Neill’s plays are not produced much anymore other than in large cities and on college campuses.
O’Neill wrote most of his plays between l914 and l942 and won a Nobel Prize for Literature. His list of masterpiece plays includes The Ice Man Cometh, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Strange Interlude and Pulitzer Prize Winner Anna Christie. The only one ever done in Jacksonville since I have been reviewing was Anna Christie several years ago also at ABET. An interesting side note on O’Neill. In l943, when his eighteen year old daughter Oona, married the 54 year old Charlie Chaplin, O’Neill disowned her and never saw her again.
Hughie takes place in a rundown New York hotel in l928. The central character, who has 90% of the dialogue, is Erie, a down and out gambler who calls this seedy hotel his home. On this night he has returned home after a heavy bout of drinking that was inspired by the death of a long time friend, Hughie who had been the night clerk here. Hughie was the only person in the world that saw Erie as a great guy and a winner and who actually listened stories about his high flying gambling, women, and flamboyant life style.
Hughie’s replacement is Charlie, a veteran of working in flea bag hotels, and is not as attentive or interested in Erie’s ranting and ravings and in fact in his thoughts refers to him as room #492, rather than by name. Jack Barnard, one of Jacksonville’s foremost character actors, gives a splendid performance in this most challenging role, displaying a full range of emotions of this misfit who proclaims that his life style is superior to those who hold regular jobs and have families. Barnard just finished another play at ABET, Forrest and had one of the leading roles as a defense attorney and was equally impressive in that role.
Veteran actor Leonard Alterman is Charlie, in what is probably the most unusual role he has performed in the many years of appearing on Jacksonville stages. Alterman does have some dialogue but his acting is mainly reacting to Erie by being bored to death and having to show this so the audience understands it. I am sure most of us can recall a time or two when we were a captive audience to someone’s incessant chatter and unable to escape fast enough. Well Charlie has no choice, his job is desk clerk and he is the only employee at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Director Merrylin Opendo had a formidable task to keep this production from becoming static, as two character plays set in the same location can become and she was successful.
The history of this play and its unique staging by ABET should stimulate you to see it. O’Neill wrote the play in l941 and he himself said it was a play to be read, like a book, and not performed. It was not performed until l959, six years after O’Neill’s death. In the script, O’Neill has put in parenthesis the thoughts of Charlie reflecting his reactions to Erie as well as the street sounds outside the building. Director Opendo and Technical Director Andrew McCraney had Alterman as Charlie record these thoughts and they are played over a speaker system and Charlie acts like he is thinking these words without any lip movement only body language. The thoughts are interesting and well written so I can see why ABET wanted to share them with the audience. All other productions I have researched did not use this technique and use the dialogue.
Even though this is only a one act, Broadway has embraced the quality of O’Neill’s writing by nominating Jason Robards for a Tony as the best actor for “Hughie” in l964. Ben Gazzara in the same role won the l975 Tony for best actor.
“Hughie” is an interesting evening of theatre as a character study of a lost soul, who could be very humorous at times, as he talks about his “dolls”, big gambling wins and his philosophy of life.