What's it about?
Two men in a hotel lobby reminisce about their beloved Hughie.
What'd I experience?
For some reason Hughie brought to mind those random encounters I’ve had with toddlers, when they start talking to me at parties. I hope someone out there understands me. They pop up out of nowhere and cling onto me the entire night with their tirade of unbelievably long stories. Even worse, there is usually no escape because a parent is nearby so I have to smile through the pain or be an asshole and tell the child to go away (I speak from experience that this should be your last resort).
Even though the title is Hughie, he isn’t actually a physically visible character. The story pretty much focuses on the effect he had on Erie’s life (played by Forest Whitaker). Erie is a single guy - possibly in his late 40’s - who lives in a NYC hotel in the late 1920’s. He is a heavy drinker and gambler, which makes sense since he really has nothing else to do. No family, no wife, no kids, and no responsibilities. In many ways it felt like Erie was a representation of the sad side to living in such a large city, there is this endless abyss of people and yet feeling lonely and isolated is common.
Hughie was the nighttime clerk at the hotel, but also Erie’s only friend. He has recently died. Erie shares tales of walking in drunk and just talking away the night into the day with Hughie there to always listen. In many ways when Hughie shared stories of his family life, it was Erie’s chance to live through them because he had no other way of knowing what having someone to love is like. Sadly for Erie the new clerk doesn’t seem to be interested in that routine. And so the analogy with the toddler at a party begins.
Erie staggers through the hotel doors into the lobby, surprised to see (or is too drunk to remember) that Hughie has been replaced with a new clerk. He immediately begins rambling on about his night. He talks on and on about his earnings and all the drinking he’d done that night, even giving the clerk tips on gambling. The more he shares the more he seemed to bore the man at the desk, and in all honesty me.
Since I was seated at the very edge of an aisle there was no seat to my right, instead it was a wall, and throughout the play I saw more and more people leaning their head against it - I’m pretty sure some fell asleep, I know I almost did. I know that sounds bad, but this is where the annoying toddler analogy makes sense to me. Erie rambles mostly about things that anyone but himself would find unimportant, especially to a complete stranger.
However, at one point he goes on a long rant about having been invited to Hughie’s home, where he met his wife and kids and saw an entirely different side to life. It was truly the first time I started paying attention to Erie. Erie overall isn’t someone I’d initially consider interesting, but as soon as he began to talk about his observations of others it was like being enraptured with a new character. Suddenly, he was this incredible outsider that lived vicariously through other people’s lives as a way to deal with his loneliness.
Back to why Erie reminded me of a toddler, regardless of how unpleasant those little people and their stories can be as the story progresses it almost became this weirdly interesting thing I couldn’t look away from. It was a chance to see life through the eyes of someone else and often times I find sooner or later it teaches me something about myself. I’ve always been told by mum and brother that listening to someone is important regardless of who that person it is. Whether it’s to learn about something new or just to listen to a voice that wants to be heard. Life is often that simple, someone people just want to be heard.