At one point during the one-hour, two-man play Hughie, Erie Smith (played by Forest Whitaker) goes over to a nearby white cooler and has a drink. Because it's mostly Whitaker speaking throughout the show, you can't help but wonder whether this moment has Whitaker breaking the fourth wall and showing the effects of owning such a large share of the play himself. It might be short, but for Whitaker it's a long haul.
The play was originally written in 1942, but takes place in 1928 at a dingy New York motel in the early morning hours. Michael Grandage keeps the character moving around with profound direction, hoping to maintain the fleeting interest of the motel clerk, played by Frank Wood. He stares off at times, and functions mostly as a sounding board for Erie to regale him with tales of past pursuits. Erie had a close bond, or so he says, with the past clerk Hughie, and his desperation brings him close to the replacement, too, in the form of a surrogate listener.
But it's the creations of set and costume designer Christopher Oram that really sparkle and resonate. While listening to a seemingly endless number of stories from Erie, the audience has plenty to look at and marvel at. Lighting designer Neil Austin injects the right amount of darkness and light to complement Erie's tough times and hopefulness for a better day when his active losing streak relents.
Ultimately, though, it's hard to connect with Erie and to understand what the man is being truthful about and whether he has a bright future. He's an unreliable narrator, whose considerations are sparked only by gambling and luck. It's difficult to spot much depth to him, though he seems to have had quite an affinity for Hughie during his time on Earth. Yet, it remains impossible for the audience to detect whether those feelings were mutual, or whether anyone felt anything for Erie.