A note in the program of "Clive" places us in the 1990s, but promises we will "also hear the future and the past."
Well, I'm not betting a big future for this raucous, ambitious, ultimately tiresome 100-minute odyssey, except for people who want to appreciate the irresistibly watchable Ethan Hawke as he directs and stars in another of his self-challenging theater adventures.
But the past -- now that is all over the messy-moonscape stage with the corrugated wall patterns and the free-standing, dislocated doors. There's the obvious past, Bertolt Brecht's 1922 "Baal," from which the playfully smart playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman professes to have "stolen" the idea of a poet on a downward spiral of debauchery and self-destruction.
But "Clive" is also a throwback to downtown experiments in the '60s and '70s, especially Sam Shepard's 1972 poetic-musical play, "The Tooth of Crime," about sex and violence as rock warfare. Hawke, with a discipline that only looks like feral recklessness, leather pants and platinum-blond spikes, plays the title's rebel. He's a chick magnet who walks away from a record executive (Sherman in one of a variety of amusing sleazy roles), snorts his dope, seduces his wife, deflowers a virgin (Zoe Kazan in one of a variety of man-killing roles) and begins his descent to a bad death in -- wait for it -- Canada.
You see, this is silliness -- dense in a rich sense but also dense in the dumb sense, with bits of tangy poetry about our divided natures and much bad poetry about trees. People narrate their own action, a bit like Brecht, and play snatches of familiar songs -- from Elvis to Kurt Weill -- that mingle with the original sounds by the art duo/sculptors known as Gaines.
Best of all, Clive is shadowed by Doc, a mysterious hulk of a bald man with a drawl, who happens to be the first stage character Vincent D'Onofrio has played here since the late lamented "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." D'Onofrio doesn't say much, but he is perfect -- scary, fearless, able to slide music from a guitar's neck and unashamed to climb a ladder in fluffy angel wings. His is a future worth contemplating.
WHERE The New Group, 410 W. 42nd St.
INFO $60; 212-239-6200; Telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE Raucous, ultimately tiresome '70s throwback with terrific Hawke and D'Onofrio