The only interesting thing about Ethan Hawke is that no actor so lousy has tried so aggressively to trade in his celebrity for artistic credibility. In Clive, a rewriting of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, he plays a pretentious, narcissistic rocker with bleach-blond hair and a penchant for drinking and womanizing—quite the stretch. And yet he can’t pull it off, draining the richness out of Brecht with his unique brand of nauseating histrionics as he has done previously with Chekhov and Shakespeare. He is admittedly an indefatigable performer, shoveling his shit down our throats with impressive tenacity, presumably working under the assumption that if we see him enough we might finally think he is good. But his stench has polluted New York theater for too long. He should be run into the Hudson River by audiences bearing torches and pitchforks.
To be fair, the text offers him no help. In her notes on the production, dramaturge Cobina Gillet remarks that the critic Alfred Kerr, scandalized by the 1923 premiere of Baal, wrote, “Liquor, liquor, liquor, naked, naked, naked women.” This suggests something more audacious or at least more interesting than Clive, a play that features heavy drinking but no nudity; and as anyone who has ever been the designated driver knows, watching people get drunk is no fun. Jonathan Marc Sherman’s adaptation evokes that sense of restlessness you get while listening to the inebriated as they insist on telling and retelling the same stories without offering you a convenient exit. It is 105 minutes of unguided, free flow masturbation, a meandering, pointless exercise in self-indulgence. Baal itself is no masterpiece, a funny, forgettable work written when Brecht was twenty, but Clive is both bad and loud—a giant, globular nothing that deafens you with its monotonous, chaotic nonsense.
Recounting the plot in detail, then, would be unnecessary and tedious. Essentially: Clive drinks, Clive fucks, Clive dies, all while spewing his Arthur Rimbaud/Jim Morrison-inspired babble. Mr. Sherman admits, “I worked from a literal translation courtesy of Google Translate.” Is this a joke or an excuse? The mess he has unwisely offered up to us would certainly suggest the latter. Clive is quite possibly the worst play I have ever seen.