Tucked away upstairs at The Gilded Balloon, nestling right at the heart of comedy central, is an absolute gem which is a must-see for any devotees of real theatre.
A haunting theatrical gem
One of Eugene O’Neill’s last plays, Hughie sees sad act hustler Erie Smith bluster and bloviate around the hotel lobby of his shabby New York hotel in the small hours of the morning. As he tells tall stories of his luck with the ladies and the horses, new night clerk Charlie Hughes pops pills and struggles to maintain interest and requisite politeness.
And that’s about it. The premise is so fragile in its simplicity that it allows its actors (an immaculately on-form Mike McShane as Charlie and Phil Nichol as Erie) free rein to inhabit their characters with exquisite nuance; Erie reminiscing about the previous porter - the Hughie of the title - and Charlie’s hollow eyes suggesting all the emptiness of a life unrealised. As Nichol peacocks about the stage, Erie increasingly feels the lack of an approving acolyte to bolster his ego and stabilise his grand claims. Whilst McShane stands, stiff-backed behind the lobby counter, Charlie’s face suggests a profound discomfort with life, but one that the audience has to work to understand on their own terms.
Truthful, stark and achingly real, Hughie has a haunting quality that will linger long after you’ve left the venue. And as with all great drama, what has not been said tugs insistently at the synapses far into the night.