“When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?
When the hurlyburly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.”
—William Shakespeare, MACBETH
ARTIE: Eddie, can I ask you something? I wanna ask you something….
ARTIE: I’m just very curious about the nature of certain patterns of bullsh*t by which people pull the wool over their own eyes.
—David Rabe, HURLYBURLY
There is not a single likable character in David Rabe’s HURLYBURLY, but it’s a thoroughly likable play, now in an engaging production by New City Stage Company. the characters are complex and fully formed; the dialog is witty and intelligent: wandering conversations communicating confused emotions and existential pain.
Eddie (Russ Widdall) and Mickey (Robert Smythe) are two bachelors on the fringes of the 1980s Hollywood film industry, living lives distinctly lacking in Hollywood glamour. Starting the day with a line of “Bolivian health food,” Eddie embarks on self-absorbed critiques of the world around him, railing against women, society, and the snakes of the movie business.
“Trying to maintain a, you know, viable relationship with reality” in a downward spiral of self-destruction, he keeps violent sociopath Phil (Paul Felder) around so he feels safely stable in comparison. Downcast Hollywood player Artie (Bruce Graham) appears with a naive Midwestern teenager (Sarah van Auken) he met on an elevator, the first of several women the quartet pass around like the herbal cigarettes onstage.
Director James J. Christy has put together one of the best ensembles I’ve seen on recent Philadelphia stages. The cast members excel in each role, and the humanity and immediacy they bring to the self-absorbed, self-destructive characters give the play its power.
Widdall navigates Eddie’s charismatic inconstancy with aplomb, carrying the audience on his drug-addled descent. Felder was the highlight of last season’s generally miscast REASONS TO BE PRETTY at PTC, and he captures a similar violent intensity in HURLYBURLY.
Both portray thoroughly misogynistic characters, but by presenting their chauvinism as so unpalatable, Rabe tells a cautionary tale. The women lack self-respect, but the fate of the men who victimize them is unenviable. Among the men, only Artie grows to grasp that. Phil and Eddie hit rock bottom. For the audience, theirs is a rewarding journey. We never identify with the characters, but they command our attention and carry us on their restless downward trip.
Even at nearly three hours (with two intermissions), the play feels shorter than some one-acts. It’s a strong script powerfully acted and directed (and evocatively lighted by designer Matt Sharp). Highly recommended.
By David Rabe
Directed by James J. Christy
February 28-March 24, 2013
New City Stage Company
at the Adrienne Theatre
2030 Sansom Street