Hurlyburly Reviewed

It’s hard to believe that a play set in the mid-1980s must now be referred to as a period piece.  But the big problem with Scott Elliot’s revival of Hurlyburly, now playing at 37 Arts, isn’t itsdistance from the original; it’s the play’s distance from its audience.

Estrangement is what David Rabe’s exploration of morally bankrupt Angelinos (the original’s ensemble featured William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Sigourney Weaver and the Tony-winning Judith Ivey) and was directed by Mike Nichols) was all about; characters who hide behind substances, clothes, narcotics, substances, and, yes, more substances, to hide their true selves from each other and themselves. Elliot’s unedited (and at three hours and twenty minutes, bloated) production tries to tackle this weighty theme and more, but often ends up hitting the shallow end of the emotional pool, leaving his audience with something less.

Ethan Hawke is certainly in the zone as Eddie

Ethan Hawke is certainly in the zone as Eddie, a casting agent who may be the only one in his circle who cares about others, though he’d certainly never win a Philanthropist of the Year Award.  He lives with fellow casting agent Mickey (Josh Hamilton, dressed to the nines in Jeff Mahshie’s Miami Vice chic), a far more self-absorbed lothario, but their apartment plays host to several more characters who immediately make themselves at home.

They include Eddie’s volatile friend Phil (an often intense Bobby Cannevale), Artie (Wallace Shawn), a studio executive who brings Donna (Halley Wegryn Gross), a free-spirited teenager offered up as a communal sex toy, and two other women caught up in this take-no-prisoners pissing contest: stripper Bonnie (Elizabeth Berkeley, a last-minute replacement for Catherine Kellner) and Darlene (the underutilized Parker Posey), as the woman inexplicably torn between Eddie and Mickey.

Posey, in particular, has a surprisingly difficult time transcending her lines from theatrics into something more organic

The many scenes with Eddie and his various friends – who in some scenes also become his enemies and revert back to being his friends, so chaotically packed are Rabe’s scenes – contain much verbal and narrative action.  But Rabe has a harder time integrating his trio of female characters, who spend most time onstage asserting their relevance to the other men in the play by recounting offstage antics. Posey, in particular, has a surprisingly difficult time transcending her lines from theatrics into something more organic.

Rabe’s verbose characters talk around a lot of topics, but say very little, and the audience never gets to see what makes them tick – or, for that matter, what makes them retreat from each other.  The character of Donna, for example, remains a cryptic narrative device, with no explanation for her affability and willing submissiveness. Only late in the performance does she begin to demonstrate some emotion, and by that point it no longer feels natural.  And Elliot errs by enacting much of his action downstage center, where only a small portion of the audience can see what is going on.

Hawke has the meatiest role, spending virtually the entire play onstage, but he also faces the most difficult challenges with which he must grapple.  The audience sees that he is anguished, but he never clearly expresses what exactly torments him, or why, or for how long.  This is true of the work as a whole: Eddie and his pals pace back and forth in a funk of drug-and alcohol-fueled questioning, but the play doesn’t escalate and satisfying answers never come.  As a result, the audience senses their misery in their head, but never in their hearts.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.