Hawke’s Mad Rocker Salvages ‘Clive’; ‘Rage’ Soars: Review

From his electric blonde hair to the boots he wields as weapons, Ethan Hawke fully embraces the role of a rampaging monomaniac in the New Group’s headache-inducing “Clive.”

The opening scene finds the nascent rock star snorting powder off the breast of his manager’s wife, at a dinner party celebrating his recording contract. Before dessert is served, the contract will itself be so much dust.

Offered fame, Clive instead chooses drugs, debauchery and dissolution, which come all too easily from the whorl of sycophants abetting his descent into self-annihilation.

Based on Bertolt Brecht’s first play, “Baal,” a youthfully messy X-ray of Weimar Germany, Jonathan Marc Sherman’s adaptation, aggressively staged by Hawke, takes plenty of risks. They never pay off.

Brecht’s anti-hero was a poet based on Rimbaud (Peter O’Toole played Baal in a famous London production in the early 1960s). Here, Clive, on the road to excess, croaks awful songs and strums a black guitar covered with words in white. Zoe Kazan repeats herself as a naif eager to shed her innocence, and the fine Vincent D’Onofrio, a refrigerator of a man, plays Lucifer, beckoning his prey like the M.C. of “Cabaret”:

“Clive! Let everything go and come with me. To all the other dive bars. To the churches. To the zoos and the barns and the stables. God has forgotten you. Dancing. Music. Booze. Soaking rain. Burning sun. Darkness. Light. Women. Dogs.”

Strutting and preening, Hawke is never less than fascinating to watch. Still, one very long act of just under two hours feels more like the morning after than the night before.

Through March 9 at the Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: *

Anger Management

The last time I saw Martin Moran, he was gleefully clip-clopping coconut halves on the stage of the Shubert Theatre as an Arthurian knight with intestinal issues in “Spamalot.”

He was pretty irresistible then and he’s even more so now in “All the Rage,” a potent and deeply moving monologue about living with forgiveness without getting all mushy about it.

A lean, easy-going actor with an ingratiating mien, Moran takes us on a journey that begins -- but doesn’t dwell upon -- his abuse by a camp counselor. It includes an unexpected reconciliation with a hated stepmother and a journey to “the cradle of humankind” near Johannesburg.

Seeking Asylum

Most powerfully, he tells of meeting Sibi, a refugee from Chad seeking asylum in the U.S. after being imprisoned and tortured for doing absolutely nothing. Using his fluent French to serve as Sibi’s interpreter, Moran forges a touching bond with this man who has little more than hope to subsist on.

Moran uses a globe, an opaque projector and little more to tell a story regularly punctuated by the question: Where’s your anger? This willingness to forgive sometimes gnaws at him, making him question his manhood, his sanity.

He finds the answer in unlikely places and chance encounters that I won’t reveal, but which left me humbled. And amused, I must add. Don’t miss this gem of a show.

At the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://www.ticketcentral.com. Rating: ****

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include New York Weekend and movies.