As far as the NYC theater scene goes, it can be a hit or miss what you’ll experience in the darkness of any given theater these days.
That’s why I chose to attend a panel talk first where Forest Whitaker discussed his latest venture into Broadway theater with “Hughie” a short play by Eugine O’Niell. Sitting down with the play’s director at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Whitaker was able to preface the shows opening premier, which was scheduled to take place a couple days later.
While he mentioned during the panel discussion that this sort of theater acting was something he hadn’t attempted since college, I was still surprised at his struggle with the character Erie Smith when I attended the show at Booth theater the next day. “Hughie” is such a short play (60 min.) with only one other cast member in the production and I gathered there was a hope towards pulling in the audience quickly and suspending us from this 1920s hotel narrative with a few emotional takeaways from the protagonist.
Overall it just seemed to take awhile, maybe 30 minutes in, for Whitaker to loosen up and feel connected to the lines. By the end he had become Erie Smith, but naturally by that time the audience had struggled to hold on. I certainly hope Whitaker tries to do other theater plays, but it would probably help to try a larger production where its not so easy to focus on him (and I mean that in the kindest way.) “Hughie” is a one act play where all the narrative rests on the character Erie Smith and the secondary character played by Frank Wood has less than a dozen lines. It really is a lot of pressure for a first time stage actor and it doesn’t surprise that the production is closing earlier than expected.
I’m glad I attend these events to learn more about Eugene O’Niell works and look forward to checking out some of his other classic plays.