Review: Billy Crudup dazzles in ‘Harry Clarke’ at Berkeley Rep

Billy Crudup appears in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's "Harry Clarke" through Dec. 23, 2023. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

Sometimes an actor is so much better than the script itself that you can sit back and admire, even be deeply moved by, their virtuosity, but are left wanting more.

Such is the case with “Harry Clarke,” in which Tony- and Emmy Award-winner Billy Crudup appears in a monologue by playwright-monologist David Cale. The play is now at Berkeley Repertory Theatre after its 2017 opening at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre.

It begins, engagingly, in medias res: Crudup, as the fake Brit Harry Clarke, is talking a mile a minute and will continue to do so for most of the 80-minute play, during which he embodies the narrator, the self-constructed Harry (as well as the Midwesterner that he actually is) plus the entire Schmidt family that he so successfully infiltrates (mother, father, adult son and daughter) and others.

Every character is so carefully crafted, from body language to facial expression to vocal timbre and accent — Crudup’s empathy for each of these flawed human beings so generous — that it reminds you what the actor’s craft is all about at its greatest: the ability to somehow understand, and share with us, the pain and beauty of the human condition.

As Harry Clarke, with his working-class British accent, explains, he was struggling through an abusive childhood in Indiana when, at the age of 8, he found himself speaking in an English accent.

As he grew up, the accent kept returning to him spontaneously, apparently complete with everyday British slang, and he eventually found that an entire new persona accompanied that accent — an extroverted, fun-loving, hearty chap quite unlike his ordinary self.

A seductive fellow — “You’re a cool guy,” says an enraptured Mark Schmidt, the adult son of the family — who can do no wrong. A self-confident, seductive adventurer.

Billy Crudup is masterful playing multiple characters in “Harry Clarke.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

As his story unspools, Harry acts out the various scenes. He shadows a complete stranger on a New York City street just to do something different, then later meets that stranger (Schmidt) in a bar, setting in motion his deep connection to, as it turns out, the entire wealthy Schmidt family.

“It’s a runaway train!” he tells us. “Suddenly I feel like I’ve got on a train I can’t get off.”

The plot is reminiscent of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” but while Ripley remained an enigma, Harry lets it all hang out. Clearly, this spontaneously invented persona is his way of escaping memories of his horrific past, although that’s not investigated, and unlike Ripley, Clarke has not set out to insinuate himself into a wealthy family. It just happens.

And that’s the trouble with the script. Things just happen. Nothing ever goes very wrong. No narrow escapes. No sudden deep insights from Harry. No agenda on his part. No real tension — just lots of very funny scenes, and too few haunting ones, all so delightfully, touchingly enacted by Crudup, and a fantastical, magical aura that might make you wonder wistfully what it would be like to so easily choose to be someone else, someone perfect.

Yet Harry, as written, is too superficial a character to be taken seriously. Cale’s exploration of the character and circumstances is entertaining for sure, but it’s not deep enough to match the talents of Crudup and his meticulous, pitch-perfect director Leigh Silverman. You might end up craving more from that wonderful twosome.

“Harry Clarke” runs through Dec. 23 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $30-$200 at or (510) 647-2949.   

The post Review: Billy Crudup dazzles in ‘Harry Clarke’ at Berkeley Rep appeared first on Local News Matters.

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *