Hughes uses subtlety and understatement to create a portrait of three men, only two of whom appear onstage. Schiff dominates the action as "Erie" Smith, a small-time gambler in 1928 New York City, returning to his customary hotel off Times Square. In past visits, Erie had regaled the night clerk, Hughie, with tall tales of his high rolling and extravagant racetrack betting, but now Hughie is dead and his successor (Randall Newsome) would rather be doing anything other than being pleasant to a loudmouthed guest in the middle of the night.
O'Neill's writing carries Erie along on a river of words as he tries to recapture the symbiotic connection he had with Hughie: he gave the shy, married Hughie a sense of danger; Hughie made Erie believe he really was the sport he pretended to be. The new clerk spends much of Erie's monologue in a fog of daydreams (O'Neill laid out the subtext in his stage directions, some of which are performed in voiceover by actor Reg Rogers), but the resolution offers an indication of hopeillusory, perhaps, but still hope.
Schiff embodies the character's bone-weariness in his slightly stooped posture, the exhaustion in his face, the way his yellowing white suit (designed by Catherine Zuber) doesn't quite fitand his foolish vanity in the fact that his hair appears to have been dyed with black shoe polish. Newsome has perfected the placid, inoffensive smile of a man whose livelihood depends on not annoying the customers, but also offers a little bit more.
Scenic designer Neil Patel and lighting designer Ben Stanton have put a lot of detail into the hotel-lobby setting: the too-dim lights to hide the grime, the peeling plaster walls, the water stains on the ceiling. Darrel Maloney's projection design and David Van Tieghem's music and sound design add an expressionistic level to the storytelling.
Shakespeare Theatre Company
January 31st - March 17th