PITTSFIELD, MASS. There is always a danger of wanting something so much that the event doesn’t match the anticipation.
“Harry Clarke” is the first live theater production that I have attended since March 10. It surpassed everything I had hoped for.
Attending “Harry Clarke,” at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass., was not only worth the wait, it reminded me of what I lost during the five months without live theater. Because of the talented performance of rich material, I recognized how deeply I enjoyed sharing a communal experience in a dark space while other humans transform, transfix and make you believe in any story they tell, or any action they take.
On a personal level, I have not felt so relaxed in five months. Part of that was, of course, being in my natural habitat – theater. It is a place that has always permitted me to think outward by watching the actions of others on stage.
Theater also forces me to think inward. I work to figure out the puzzling nature of characters and the point the playwright is trying to express. Theater, to me, is an opportunity to understand the essence of life through human behavior.
Mark H. Dold made me believe the story of a shy midwestern youth who grew up annoying everyone – especially his gruff, uncaring father – by speaking with an English accent. When his parents pass away, he moves to New York City where he takes the name Harry Clarke. That accent, bold behavior and an ability to invent preposterous, yet believable, stories deeply involve him with a wealthy family. That involvement grows darker on an emotional level, leading to complicated sexual relationships.
In the process, trust, truth and reality become blurred. Inevitably things turn dangerous and destructive during the compelling 80-minute tale.
Thankfully, “Harry Clarke,” though only a one-person show, is able to probe deeply into human nature and the complicated behavior of individuals.
Playwright David Cale did not simply write a show where an actor can portray more than a dozen characters. This is a play that probes the needs and weaknesses of many people who seem to have everything, but in essence have nothing.
But having nothing is the heart of “Harry Clarke.” Harry is a character who acts in a way to please and charm the person he is with. But on a psychologically disturbing level, Harry’s behavior is a way of permitting him to be who he wants, and perhaps, who he was born to be. Because the characters in the play are so self-absorbed, there is more humor than tragedy in the play.
But, if “Harry Clarke” is taken as an allegory about a society that believes what it wants to believe permitting people behave in a manner to achieve happiness by denying the truth of who they are – it does become tragic.
Mark H. Dold has offered many brilliant performances during his fifteen years acting at Barrington Stage – especially memorable was his portrayal of Alan Turing in “Breaking the Code.” Never has he more deserved the standing ovation he received on opening night.
In a post-performance speech from the stage he graciously deflected the praise, giving credit for his performance to the director Julianne Boyd, who did a marvelous job keeping the piece fluid, visually interesting and ratcheting tensions as Harry grows bolder and bolder in his behavior.
However, as Dold pointed out, the praise for Boyd was especially deserved for her tenacity and determination to get “Harry Clarke” on stage.
It and the Berkshire Theatre Group’s production musical “Godspell,’ also taking place in Pittsfield, are the only live productions taking place in the entire country.
The rules and regulations from state and regional governments were stringent, as were the almost suffocating guidelines enforced by Actors’ Equity. All were designed to protect those in the audience, the staff and performers. But they created almost insurmountable obstacles to create a theater experience.
Each show is presented outside under a tent. It isn’t a perfect environment for a theatrical experience, but at “Harry Clarke” it was comfortable and permitted extreme social distancing. Not even street and motorcycle noises that could be heard disturbed the show. Never was I uncomfortable or made to feel I was in an unsafe or unpleasant environment.
Adding to the security level is that temperatures are taken upon entering. You are escorted to seats avoiding groups of people. Masks are mandatory and hand sanitizer is everywhere. The space is sterilized after every performance.
I have enjoyed many memorable theatrical occasions over the years. This production of “Harry Clarke” is among the more important for many reasons. For me, for the country, and the industry, it symbolizes the power of theater and the love of those who create it and those who attend it.
“Harry Clarke” is an excellent theater experience. It is also proof that the art form can inspire, comfort and even more importantly, survive.
“Harry Clarke” continues through August 16. For tickets and schedule information call 413-236-8888. Or go to barringtonstageco.org.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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