Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hurlyburly: Sex, Drugs, and Hollywood

Brandon Scott Hughes and Kirk Gostkowski as Phil and Eddie.
Photo by Abi Classey.
Hurlyburly, by David Rabe. Directed by Rich Ferraioli. Featuring Kirk Gostkowski, Deven Anderson, Brandon Scott Hughes, Chris Harcum, Christina Elise Perry, Jacklyn Collier, and Rachel Cora. Produced by Variations Theatre Group, currently running at The Chain Theatre through March 1st, 2014.

"Is everybody ripped here?" It's the middle of what seems to be an ongoing series of days and nights getting trashed on booze, dope, and pills, and the answer is most assuredly yes. Hurlyburly is David Rabe's scathing look at the overindulgence of the climbers and would-be kingmakers of Los Angeles in the 1980s, and it ain't pretty.

The play opens with the protagonist, "good old Eddie," passed out on his sofa, the evidence of cocaine snorting in front of him, and an open bar not far behind him. He's an overly gregarious casting director, and at first glance it seems he's perhaps too indulgent of the various acolytes that endlessly populate his apartment. His roommate and fellow casting director, Micky, aloof and dry as a martini, regards the whole charade with more disdain; but on the other hand, he's not fooling himself the way Eddie clearly is.

Eddie's lack of self knowledge runs deep, past his need to be needed by the likes of wanna-be actor Phil or Artie - who keeps talking of signing some nebulous deal - Eddie rants about women hating men when it's all too clear that he, along with his friends, barely view any of the women they encounter as human. This is a world of drugs and sex, but it's not the free love of the 60s; it's something more in the line of product and trade - Artie refers to hitchhiker Donna as a "care package" when he drops her on Eddie's doorstep. Eddie eventually reaches a crisis when tragedy strikes, but even that devolves, past his desperately searching for meaning in a nonsense note, to a rambling spew of fury and despair at his television. It is only the reappearance of his care package, Donna the deus ex machina, that saves him from total annihilation, but even then he's left with the emptiness of his existence sans suck ups and allies.

This is a rare revival of David Rabe's 1984 play, following the 2005 revisions which cropped it from three acts down to two. Even then, the length of the play does begin to wear on the audience - three hours of yelling gets to you after a while. But the play is dynamically staged by Rich Ferraioli, spreading the action across R. Allen Babcock's thrusted set design. Babcock has made wonderful work of this small blackbox space, turning into a swank and spacious 80s-style Hollywood apartment, the obvious gathering place for any and all of Eddie's and Micky's various hangers-on.

The pacing of the play ebbs and flows a bit -  there is a failure to maintain momentum in Act One, particularly at the top of the show; but that problem is nowhere in evidence in the opening of Act Two, which is a steamroller of a scene, everyone talking over each other, at each other, everyone dynamic, kinetic, everyone afraid of the vacuum of silence that could crop up at any time. Kirk Gostkowski is well-cast as Eddie, for while likable, he's not afraid to embrace the awfulness of Eddie either, the shiftless confusion or the smug abuse of his friends. Deven Anderson is also a standout as Micky, smooth and cold, with impeccable timing. And though the women are more objects to be won rather than humans with agency, Christina Elise Perry, Rachel Cora, and especially Jacklyn Collier do strong work, fighting to be heard among the raging testosterone.

Christina Elise Perry and Kirk Gostkowski as Darlene and Eddie.
Photo by Abi Classey.

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