From the moment Brian Dennehy, the barrel-chested character actor that most twenty-somethings probably recognize as Chris Farley's father in the film "Tommy Boy," first wanders into the elaborately dilapidated New York hotel lobby that is the set of "Hughie" – the Eugene O'Neill classic that is the opening act for the night – audiences can't help but be captivated by his embodiment of the fast-talking, guffawing has-been Erie Smith.
Bouncing his mountains of dialogue off the mostly silent night clerk (Joe Grifasi), Dennehy is gripping; alternately pompous and pathetic. Smith has just returned home from a "four- or five-day drunk" mourning the loss of his friend, Hughie, the previous night clerk of the hotel. As Smith tells story after story, always with an ever-dimming twinkle in his eye, Dennehy paints a clear picture of a down-on-his-luck conman warily eying his own mortality.
In stark contrast, the opening moments of the second act - Samuel Beckett's much darker "Krapp's Last Tape" - reveal a barren stage with a single light hanging over a single table where a single man is sitting. Gone is the braggadocio and easy, eager smile of Erie Smith. Here sits Krapp, a disheveled, elderly man alone with his thoughts. As if allowing the audience to adjust to this sudden turn of events, Dennehy sits silently for several beats before making his first meticulous move. It is at least 10 minutes before Krapp first speaks. And when he does, his speech is stilted and deliberate. Mostly Krapp sits at his table replaying recordings he made 30 years earlier during much more exciting times. Again Dennehy is mesmerizing, internalizing the emotions each recorded word elicits.
Though at first glance the two plays seem dramatically different – and there's no question that they indeed are – it is the similarities in these two stories that pull this double bill together. Both are comedy-laced dramas that delve deeply into loss, depression and loneliness. Both involve the painful exploration of a man's life. And both prove that Brian Dennehy is a theatrical force to be reckoned with. It's no wonder that the run of this double bill has already been extended.
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