Richard Dormer in Hurricane(Photo © www.hurricanetheshow.com)
Richard Dormer in Hurricane
(Photo © www.hurricanetheshow.com)
If the producers of The Boy From Oz are looking around for someone to replace Hugh Jackman when he finally quits the show and if they're prepared to sign an actor with slightly less box-office value than Jackman's, the guy they're looking for is in town right now, doing a startling audition in a 70-minute solo piece called Hurricane.

The stage wonder is Richard Dormer, who has a greater resemblance to Peter Allen than Jackman does, can easily put on the same floating-on-helium affect as Allen, and certainly has the stamina required to lift a so-so musical off the ground and keep it aloft. At the moment he's demonstrating these qualities in a one-man piece he's written about the dynamic and deeply troubled Northern Ireland snooker champion, Alex Higgins.

Snooker -- always pronounced by its fans as "snoo-ker" -- isn't extremely well known in the United States, although most people realize it's similar to pool and billiards. And they probably have surmised the expression "snookered" originated with a game that relies on backing an opponent into an unmaneuverable spot. I can say I've watched snooker championship matches on British television for a number of years and still wouldn't try to explain the rules. Sportscasters never give them, assuming -- as sportscasters here do -- that spectators for any sport know the rules. What I'll venture to say is that players -- wielding cue sticks with the expertise of conductors employing batons -- are only allowed to sink certain balls when they have made other successful preliminary shots. I can also say that snooker is played in a hushed room where contenders generally consider their moves with quiet and deliberate concentration.

Which is precisely how Alex Higgins, whom I don't think I've ever seen in a televised match, did not play. That's if Dormer's exhaustively physical performance is an accurate recreation of the explosive Higgins style. Showing off Higgins's technique, which includes at least one behind-the-back shot, the compact and kinetic Dormer rarely remains still. At one point the sporting actor-writer does a cartwheel during which he picks up a cue he's placed on the floor. Dormer is all over a set (by Gary McCann) that suggests a large-scale snooker table. And it's a superb notion, since -- hurtling from one side to the other like a cue ball and then diametrically to another corner but never leaving the set's perimeter -- Dormer gives the impression of a man locked into his very proscribed world. You could say he looks as if he's been snookered by his decisions.

Which apparently is the way life was -- and continues to be -- for Higgins, who began playing the game at a local Belfast spot called the Jampot when he was 11. A small kid (smaller than Dormer), he trained as a jockey but was dismissed from his apprenticeship before he ever raced. Returning to snooker, he rose quickly in competitions and by the time he was 23 was the world champion player. That was 1972. Apparently an irrepressibly cocky bloke, he frittered away his talent for a decade before returning to form and becoming champion once again in 1982. A couple more sizzling seasons followed. Still hanging around the snooker periphery today (and evidently ringing up Dormer on occasion), he seems to have been an immature lad who never matured -- through two marriages, by the way. Instead, he has simply aged into a lost soul, gambling money he doesn't have on horses and refusing to sign autographs unless he can importune a few quid to place on a pony.

Dormer, a chameleon who looks as if he's performing on in-line skates, tells the Higgins story as a series of fast cuts. Now he's the present-day Higgins slouching at the track, now he's the child Higgins listening to his parents, now he's in the snooker spotlight, now he's wooing one of his wives-to-be, now he's impersonating one of those wives. Using his talents for vocal timbres and accents, he sometimes enacts for only seconds at a time dozens of other characters with whom Higgins has had contact over the years. As an older man, Dormer's Higgins speaks in a three-tone rasp, as if harmonizing gutturally with himself.

Richard Dormer in Hurricane(Photo © www.hurricanetheshow.com)
Richard Dormer in Hurricane
(Photo © www.hurricanetheshow.com)
Seen first in an overcoat and wide-brimmed hat that obscures his face, Dormer eventually strips to showy vest and red shirt. (Set designer McCann also did the costumes.) Then he's got the coat and hat on again, and then they're off. He continually opens black valises, and often flings their contents on the floor, before hurling the valises themselves aside. Before long, he's littered the playing area with money and flattened beer cans and glitter -- the detritus of a profligate existence. The reason for his acquiring the nickname Hurricane becomes alarmingly clear. The effect is almost the same as if Dormer -- with director Rachel O'Riordan and lighting designer John Riddell -- were making a documentary consisting of quick cuts. Those flashes become a metaphor for a life lived at a dizzying, ultimately destructive pace.

It may be that Dormer in action as Higgins is too dizzying. At times, he's covering ground so quickly it's difficult to keep up with him, especially as he traces the biography of a man with whom few Americans are familiar. (Not true of the England and Ireland, where Higgins is credited with the wide popularity of snooker in England today and probably why so many matches are telecast late at night.) Being filled in on him is of passing interest, but viewed from another perspective the play might put you in mind of an A&E biography on steroids. In some ways, Hurricane may be most affecting as the portrait of any young man who lives fast, goes far, and then -- though he doesn't literally die young -- becomes a shrinking shadow of himself before he hits 40.

In the last minute of Dormer's tribute/analysis of Higgins, he puts on that disguising overcoat and hat and sits upstage as if disappearing into oblivion, but then he does something I won't describe. It's enormously revivifying, however, and is simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. A depiction of fame's glory and horror, it's worth the price of admission. You could call Dormer, as snooker champion contender Alex Higgins, the boy from odds.