“Harry Clarke” Is the Mask That Brings Life to the Stage
Your temperature is taken at the entrance to the tent, your seats are 6 feet apart from your neighbors and you must wear a mask throughout the performance. You are warned in the curtain speech to keep your mask on because we are all here for each other, to share humanity.
A mask is nothing new in the theater of course, the Greeks wore masks at drama’s inception. The lead character of David Cale’s play named Philip Brugglestein (played by Mark H. Dold) wears a mask and he calls it “Harry Clarke.”
As an unhappy 8-year-old in a violent family, Philip is captured on home video hamming it up for the camera and adopting a British accent and persona “Allo! My name’s Harry Clarke. You awright? Don’t get your knickers in a twist, darlin’.” His father goes ballistic. “Phil, you’re an American! You were born in Illinois. No one in this family has ever been to Europe.” A smack follows and the screen goes black.
He knows he doesn’t belong in the Prairie State so after his mother’s young death and his father’s mysteriously, untimely demise involving a drunken encounter with a tractor Philip sells the family home and flies to New York City and speaks in an English accent for the rest of his life. Like an actor, he feels more himself in disguise.
Like a young Mr. Ripley, he follows a stranger on 6th Avenue, spies on him shopping and eavesdrops on a private phone call. Philip ingratiates himself into the man’s life and family after a chance encounter with the man who we learn is named Mark Schmidt at a theater. Philip takes on his childhood persona of Harry Clarke, who has become a larky, sexy lad from across the pond who he hilariously gives the resume of former manager and man Friday of Sade.
Harry gets under the skin and into the beds of the Schmidt family and enjoys the alcohol, cocaine and shelter of the very wealthy family. A con-man who presents himself as a constructed persona and delivers what you want to hear in an attempt to fleece you for his own self-realization and greed. Sound familiar?
Mark H. Dold gives an assured, athletic performance unlike any I have ever seen from him before. He enters to applause and starts off strong with his family. If I could have used a tad more distinction between Mark Schmidt and Harry it’s a minor quibble in what is a terrific dual portrait of need and swagger as Dold flips from Philip to Harry and everyone else along the way. He is especially great dancing with himself in the gay club, trying out his declarations of love in the mirror and his close encounter with a Hanukkha Brazilian. He grows as Harry during the course of the evening and by the time he legally changes his name, I no longer recognized the actor.
The play moves at a breakneck pace with the high life details from Newport to Tribeca dotting the panorama of the trip this play takes you on. There are many references to classic noir mysteries from the music cues to name-dropping Raymond Chandler. When Harry initiates his communication with Mark Schmidt, he comments “This play’s like a mystery. In that sense, it’s more like a movie.”
David Cale, an Obie winning playwright this year for his musical memoir “We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time” was last seen in the region as a solo performer at Ancram Opera House with “Songs for Charming Strangers” in 2018. Cale wrote the twisting, teasing concoction as a commission for Audible, Amazon’s audio book division which has moved into theatrical productions. The premiere starring a raffish Billy Crudup was produced by Audible at the Vineyard Theatre in 2017.
The Barrington Stage production is historic and almost heroic in the efforts of the director Julianne Boyd who is also Artistic director of Barrington Stage Company. Mark H. Dold is the first union member that Actors Equity Association has given the approval to appear in a union sanctioned production since Broadway closed and the lockdown began on March 12th. The production was intended for BSC’s mainstage but had to move into the tent when Governor Baker could not approve the indoor production due to an abundance of caution. “Harry Clarke” was teching during last Tuesday’s torrential rains left over from Hurricane Isaias. David Lander gets a lot of variety out of the lights and Alexander Sovronsky handles the sound design admirably. Mark H. Dold had a couple of memorable moments timing his speech to the squeal of sirens speeding close by.
The overwhelming need to do something, to come together to heal has triumphed over the fears, the planning, the doubts, the negotiations, the precautions…The audience jumped at the opportunity to share their first standing ovation in five months with Ms. Boyd, Mr. Dold, Mr. Cale and the Barrington Stage Company for producing this dazzlingly conflicted tale of creation and its rewards. Mr. Dold exulted at the curtain call with his arms outstretched, triumphant and relieved.
At The Tartell Family Outdoor Stage