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'Clive' review: Ethan Hawke directs, stars

From left, Mahira Kakkar, Stephanie Janssen and Ethan

From left, Mahira Kakkar, Stephanie Janssen and Ethan Hawke in "Clive," written by Jonathan Marc Sherman, directed by Ethan Hawke, opening Feb 7, 2013. Credit: Monique Carboni

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.

WHAT "Clive"

WHERE The New Group, 410 W. 42nd St.

INFO $60; 212-239-6200;

BOTTOM LINE Raucous, ultimately tiresome '70s throwback with terrific Hawke and D'Onofrio

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