Four years had passed since Tony Award winner Billy Crudup performed on a New York stage when he said yes to doing Harry Clarke. Not that his initial instinct upon reading David Cale’s 43-page monologue was to sign on.
“When they sent this to me, my first response was, ‘Obviously not. What am I? An idiot? David wrote it; he should do it. It’s his problem,’” Crudup says. But then his competitive instincts kicked in. “Then I woke up at two o’clock in the morning with a voice in my head: ‘Oh, you can’t do it? What are you, a baby?’ And so the next morning, I call. ‘Yes, of course I’ll do it. Why wouldn’t I?’ And hung up crying. I haven’t stopped crying since.”
Crudup says all of this with a grin; for all of its intimidating challenges, he’s clearly invigorated by the daunting task awaiting him every night of embodying both the prosaic Midwesterner Philip and his British alter ego, the titular Harry. Not to mention the men and women with whom both men interact. It’s a masterful feat of timing and split-second vocal precision that earned Crudup rave reviews (and two extensions).
Now Crudup and director Leigh Silverman bring Harry Clarke to the Minetta Lane Theatre after a few months away for an Audible-produced reprisal of the Vineyard Theatre world premiere. And Crudup is thankful for the time away from the rigors of the role(s).
“During performance, at a certain point I would just go, ‘I can’t handle notes or anything else. I’m sorry, this is going to be the best I can do,’” Crudup recalls. “And now we get to be more fastidious about David’s words, more fastidious about the scene development, and it’s really, really interesting. It’s nice to revisit it with a fresh brain, and be able to work on the scene work.”
In addition to the first Off-Broadway run, Crudup also recorded the show as a radio play for Audible, something the actor relished. “My experience doing [the Vineyard production] was so much about the experience of being out there onstage alone,” he says. “So when I was doing [the Audible version], there wasn’t the same kind of pressure. It felt like a completely different event. So it was certainly more focused on trying to get the storytelling aspects of it that we found the most fascinating on tape.”
Nevertheless, Crudup is excited to return to the whole wild ride. “It does feel like my version of a daredevil act, because I have to psyche myself up for it every night,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience as intense.”