Is it identity theft if you choose to live as someone you’re not? The question occurred to me during David Cale’s slyly seductive and quietly creepy solo play “Harry Clarke,” at the Vineyard Theatre.
“The Coast of Utopia” Tony winner and “Almost Famous” star Billy Crudup plays mild-mannered Philip Brugglestein, of South Bend, Indiana. Targeted by bullies, including his disapproving dad, Philip early on devises an escape. He creates an alternate identity for himself with an Englishman called Harry Clarke, who comes complete with a posh accent and killer confidence.
After his parents die (it’s complicated), he sells the family home and leaves the Midwest to live in New York as a Brit. Eventually, he realizes he can never go back to being Philip. “I’ve gotten on a ride I can’t get off,” he says. In for a shilling, in for a pound.
Life goes on. Then it changes, when when he decides, out of the blue, to follow a guy. Harry’s fate, along with that man, his mother and sister — Crudup breathes life into the them all, plus others — inextricably entangle.
The trouble with Harry: Billy Crudup gives a stirring star turn at the Vineyard Theatre. (Carol Rosegg)
The plot, even in outline, emits the musky scent of Patricia Highsmith’s dark and sexy thriller “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” But Cale’s vivid details and imagery (blond hair being flushed down a toilet) and tightly calibrated narrative gives the play its own distinction.
Under the direction of Leigh Silverman, Crudup doesn’t make a false move. On a near-bare platform and just the clothes on his back, he glides seamlessly from one character to another — man, woman, gay, straight, drunk, sober. Playing an impostor, Crudup proves, once again, he’s the real deal.