Hurlyburly

  • Date:
    April 1, 2005
    Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    Written by: David Rabe
    Directed by: Scott Elliott
    Cast: Bobby Cannavale, Josh Hamilton, Ethan Hawke, Catherine Kellner, Parker Posey, Wallace Shawn and Halley Wegryn Gross.
    Synopsis: A brutally comic reflection on the decade of decadence in the cocaine-and-sex infused Hollywood Hills in the mid-1980s. Depicts the addled lives of four Los Angeles men caught in love-hate relationships with Hollywood women.


    Polly Wittenberg's Review.

    In a homily delivered to the College of Cardinals the day before his accession as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI warned that �we are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one�s own ego and one�s own desires.�

    I�m quite sure that the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has not seen the transfer of the New Group�s revival of David Rabe�s 1984 play Hurlyburly, a vivid and cruel treatment of some denizens of the drug-drenched LA film industry, that just opened for a 12-week-run at the new 37 Arts Theater. But the Cardinal was clearly onto something when he recognized�a bit late-- that the values of many in the contemporary world are not traditional or absolute.

    Hurlyburly is set in an apartment in the Hollywood Hills shared by a couple of guys�Eddie (Ethan Hawke) and Mickey (Josh Hamilton)--who are casting directors. They are split from or between wives and take most of their nourishment by smoking or snorting drugs and swigging from a Jack Daniels bottle. Their visitors include two male pals�Phil the manic aspiring actor (Bobby Cannavale) with a plethora of troubles and Artie the writer�s guru (Wallace Shawn) who drops by with a CARE package in the form of bimbo Donna (Halley Wegryn Gross) whom he found hanging out in an elevator. Additional female companionship is provided by Darlene (Parker Posey), a vixenish fashion photographer who won�t choose between Mickey and Eddie, and Bonnie (Catherine Kellner), a breast-baring fan dancer who is �up for anything�.

    It�s a fun group and, after 3� hours of listening to them work on their problems (having babies, using weights, sex, vibrators, abortions, rehab, etc.) with pure dopehead logic, you are quite sure that in terms of degradation you have now seen and heard it all. It�s a modern tour de force and often quite hilarious when it isn�t disgusting or tragic. At the performance I saw, the dialogue was often accompanied by a steady stream of yuks of recognition from a youngish audience.

    If you are not put off by the revolting subject matter or getting out of the theater well after 11:00 pm, this show is fluidly directed by Scott Elliott on an appropriately grungy set in shades of brown and orange by Derek McLane with suitably tacky costumes by Jeff Mahshie. The acting is uniformly terrific. Hawke, last seen by me in an awful performance as Hotspur in Shakespeare�s Henry IV, is really in his element here. Cannavale is amazingly energetic and Hamilton is just plain sleek. Seeing Shawn in a gray �rug� padding around the stage in a white polyester tracksuit is alone almost worth the price of a ticket.

    A word about the new theater: It�s got comfy seats that are close to the stage with good legroom. Unfortunately, the stage is so wide that when a scene is taking place on the opposite side from where you are sitting, it feels a million miles away. Also, when an actor is facing away from you, it is impossible to hear what he/she is going on about.

    What�s on view at the 37 Arts is a feast of brilliant acting in a play about a world you may not want to know. The new Pope has his work cut out for him.

    Polly Wittenberg