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Hurlyburly (08/07/1984 - 06/02/1985)


 

New York Daily News: "'Hurlyburly': A vicious view of Hollywood"

"Hurlyburly" opened at the Off-Broadway Promenade June 21, 1984 and moved to the Ethel Barrymore August 7, 1984.

They snort coke, pop 'ludes, swill vodka, smoke pot, and have sex (though one wonders how or why) in David Rabe's new play, "Hurlyburly," which opened last night at the Promenade. Dwellers on another planet called the Hollywood Hills, they are, as their most concerned and articulate member puts it, "spin-offs from prime time...just backgrounds for each other." The play, consisting in large part of eliptical dialogue spinning at a great rate, is a downer.

It all takes place in the house shared by two casting directors, Eddie (William Hurt) and Mickey (Christopher Walken), the one severely troubled by the world around him as described by the daily news events, and the other as flip and laid-back as a movie producer after two big scores.

Almost buried in all the glib talk, full of buzz words and the sort of stoned philosophizing endemic among college seniors after cramming 24 hours straight for finals, is the thread of a plot involving Eddie and Phil (Harvey Keitel), an ex-con with delusions of talent and the hope of landing a part in a TV series. It isn't entirely clear why Eddie cares so much about Phil, who is dangerous, and even articulate in that reasonable manner his kind adopts between flareups. But Phil is a useful character through which Rabe can vent his horror and anger at an entertainment industry that makes use of such authentic hard types as Phil to lend background credence to pure bull. In the second of the three acts, a tragedy occurs that is at least an excuse to keep Rabe's verbal momentum at a steady pace.

The three men - add to them Jerry Stiller's Artie, a scriptwriter who is older and, if anything, even more depraved than his companions - are all fathers who have long since left wife and kids and who treat their parade of girlfriends like tramps; the women, in turn, behaving as such.

All possibly except Darlene (Sigourney Weaver), with whom the anguished Eddie seems to be emotionally involved but who, nevertheless, spends one night with Mickey, thereby leading to long drawn-out confrontation scenes between Eddie and Mickey and Eddie and Darlene. Fact is, everyone sleeps with everybody, or is willing to, including Bonnie (Judith Ivey), a stripper with a kid of her own she carts off to Disneyland between experiments in bed with an endless list of partners, and Donna (Cynthia Nixon), a teenager from the Midwest who happens by and beds down with the greatest of ease.

Rabe's game is social comment, a lashing out at the mores of the entertainment colony. A scriptwriter himself for a few years, he obviously detests everything about the place except the money.

While Rabe's talk can be dazzling (though self-satisfiedly so) when it isn't running about in circle, he has failed to relate this weird crowd to others.

The production is superb. Mike Nichols, apparently bemused by the behavior of a group he knows but exists apart from, has staged the piece with a skill that is sometimes breathtaking. The most striking performances are those of Keitel, the poor but unpredictable slob of a would-be actor, and Ivey, whose excessively accommodating stripper (beg pardon, "artist," with a balloon act) is vividly set forth. Walken is wonderfully amusing whenever given the chance, and Stiller is indecently funny as the gross writer who has actually picked the girl Donna up in an elevator and brought her over as a gift to his buddies, who really detest him. Weaver's role, that of a legal secretary temporarily joined to Hurt, is vaguely written, but she plays it attractively. And Hurt, at the core of the work, gives a splendid performance within the part's limitations.

"Hurlyburly" is a play that seems about to lift us with every line, but lets us down instead - all sound and fury and, yes, signifying nothing but the author's hurt.


New York Daily News
06/22/1984

New York Post: "Rabe's 'Hurlyburly' Pins Hollywood to the Wall"

"Hurlyburly" opened at the Off-Broadway Promenade June 21, 1984 and moved to the Ethel Barrymore August 7, 1984.

David Rabe's Hurlyburly, which opened last night at the Promenade Theater, is probably the first play to make a dictionary its hero. It is all, as Hamlet said, words, words, words. The play itself bears as much resemblence as an unmade bed does to a museum fourposter. It is a Hollywood landscape, full of mist and words, a wasteland of lost meanings and psychological probings for "stuff under stuff."

The characters in these episodes from a Hollywood life are ripped to their rib-cages with dope, coke, and booze.

The director Mike Nichols has taken Rabe's fog of dope-sodden talk, and sent out his remarkable cast - William Hurt, Judith Ivey, Harvey Keitel, Cynthia Nixon, Jerry Stiller, Christopher Walken, Sigourney Weaver - through the mists like spies on a mission.

The play opens with Eddie (Hurt) curled up in fetus stupor before a dead TV. Phil (Keitel) enters, wakes up the barely sentient Eddie to tell him he has finally broken with his wife - or rather his wife has finally broken with him.

Eddie, who starts out with a line of coke at 8:45 in the morning, is "trying to maintain a viable relationship with reality," while most of the world around him is going "Blah, blah, blah."

Eddie lives with Mickey (Walken), and they are casting directors for TV. Phil, an ex-con and a man of unpredictable violence, is a sort of actor, seemingly emerging from a "three-year career in marital carnage."

Mickey on a whim has, the night before, seduced Eddie's girl Darlene (Miss Weaver). Eddie is sore. Artie (Stiller), a small-time producer busy learning the lesson that "the snakes are sharks out here," comes by to drop off a teenage girl, Donna (Miss Nixon), whom he has found in his elevator, as a complaisant sex gift to the boys. They can have her around as a household pet.

Nothing much happens. The men bring in Bonnie (Miss Ivey) as bed solace for Phil, but he throws her out of her own car, although he had the decency to slow down first. Finally - almost as the play's only event as event - Phil kills himself on the highway; but not before thoughtfully sending Eddie a suicide letter of intent, which has Eddie scurrying to a dictionary and looking for anagrams.

Words, words, words - or as Rabe and Eddie would put it: "Blah, blah, blah!" The play is a celebration of the articulate inarticulate. Jargon - much of it psychologically inclined - and a cool, laid-back, bent-over gobbledegook, introspective and obscurantist, amusingly dominate the work.

The picture of Hollywood is bleak. Remember the last Hollywood expose play, Clifford Odets's The Big Knife, just 35 years ago. That was pure innocence compared with this jungle whose zombie denizens seem preoccupied, in Mickey's words, "with pharmaceutical experiments testing the parameters of the American dream."

It is a world of narcotic anesthesia, treadmillingly recreational sex, and, Eddie puts it best, "semantic insanity." Introspection and dope as a way of life.

Rabe has written a strange, bitterly funny, self-indulgent, important play. Nichols has tried to make it work. The cast is from top to toe terrific, but special words for Hurt, Walken, and Keitel, particularly Hurt. The man is a naked nerve stretched out like a laboratory specimen.

The dialogue crackles in a strange Californian way - the way a prune might crackle. I do not believe that anyone ever says things like "gloom and doom have come to sit in my household like some kind of domestic appliance," but I appreciated Rabe's artistic deception that they might.

At times one might be watching a heterosexual Boys in the Band - the male bonding is similar, and so is the bitchy dialogue.

Rabe has here written what is, I think, his first linear play. There are no overtly symbolic overtones or undertones, but Rabe's concept of linear is not necessarily a straight line, and the play with all its tortuous locutions is more of a picture than a story.

Nichols - with his designers, setting by Tony Walton, costumes by Ann Roth, lighting by Jennifer Tipton - has picked this up and staged the play as a fantastic aquarium in which the actors float around like exotic fish among the decorative, coral paraphernalia of Rabe's words and phrases.

"I know what I am saying, but I don't know what I mean." Another quotation from this bleaky amusing play: "It's great when people know what people are talking about."

This is Western society's 20th-Century dilemma, and Rabe is pinpointing it, although at times it is like sticking the tail on a donkey.

I was entertained, horrified, intrigued, and disturbed by Hurlyburly. This notice seems full of quotations. Let me end with one not from the play, but from Goya's Caprichos etchings. It seems appropriate. "The dream of reason produces monsters." And dictionaries.


New York Post
06/22/1984

New York Times: "Hurlyburly"

"Hurlyburly" opened at the Off-Broadway Promenade June 21, 1984 and moved to the Ethel Barrymore August 7, 1984.

It seems too good to be true to walk into an Off Broadway theater - during the summer, no less - and find a half-dozen of our best young actors performing a new David Rabe play under the direction of Mike Nichols. New plays by serious American writers are rare these days; new American plays that attract the likes of Mr. Nichols, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver even rarer. But the marquee for ''Hurlyburly'' at the Promenade is no idle come-on. Until it crash lands at midpoint - halfway through the second of three acts - ''Hurlyburly'' offers some of Mr. Rabe's most inventive and disturbing writing, in a production of any playwright's dreams. Since the better half alone runs 90 minutes, this is far from a raw deal.

''Hurlyburly'' is set in the Hollywood Hills - seemingly a world apart from the Vietnam-era Army base of the last Rabe-Nichols collaboration, ''Streamers.'' But the tropical villa designed with seedy elan by Tony Walton might as well be a barracks, and the battles haven't entirely changed. Mr. Rabe remains a dynamic chronicler of the brutal games that eternally adolescent American men can play. When his buddies aren't assaulting one another, they're on search-and-destroy missions against the No. 1 enemy - the women they invariably refer to as ''broads,'' ''ghouls,'' ''bitches'' or worse.

The house in ''Hurlyburly'' is shared by two casting directors, played by Mr. Hurt and Christopher Walken. Their cronies include a struggling tough-guy actor (Harvey Keitel) hoping to land a network series, and a hack screenwriter (Jerry Stiller) chasing development deals and their various female prey.

The first of these victims is Donna (Cynthia Nixon), a Midwestern teen- age drifter whom Mr. Stiller finds living in a hotel elevator and brings to the house as a willing ''Care package'' for his pals. No less pathetic are Darlene (Miss Weaver), a photojournalist fond of the word ''weird,'' and Bonnie (Judith Ivey), an exotic dancer who doesn't mind performing fellatio on strangers in front of her 6-year-child.

Most of the men have discarded wives and children; they're all nose- deep in the cocaine culture. At his impressive best, Mr. Rabe makes grim, ribald and surprisingly compassionate comedy out of the lies and rationalizations that allow his alienated men to keep functioning (if not feeling) in the fogs of locustland. According to one character, television ''cuts the truth out of stories and leaves only the surface.'' Mr. Rabe's people live in a similar manner, with dense, contorted language to match. They dismiss depravities as ''whims,'' try to ''maintain a viable relationship with reality'' and hope to sell their ''marketable human qualities.'' They work in an industry so corrupt that its only honest executives are those who openly admit that they lie.

Amid the ebb and flow of the drug-sotted bull sessions and requisite Hollywood gags are some inspired set pieces. At the outset, Mr. Keitel storms on to explain that he beat his wife because she made him lose his train of thought during a stoned rumination about ''how to take Vegas and save the world.'' By the time he's finished telling the tale, the wife is the villain: she allowed her tooth to injure the hand that slugged her. A bit later, Miss Nixon's bubble-headed waif delivers a Leslie Fiedler-like mythological exegesis of her only prized possession, Willie Nelson's ''Stardust'' album. We also get to hear Mr. Keitel's surreal description of how a sexual vibrator functions after it's been smashed by body-building weights in the trunk of a car.

Mr. Rabe's piece de resistance is his first act curtain scene - in which Mr. Hurt and Miss Weaver decide to have sex only moments after their ''relationship'' had seemed permanently kaput. As the lovers exchange new romantic vows, Mr. Nichols's staging ricochets off the lines to provide a classic bit of nasty carnal farce: The couple's ever-phonier declarations of sentiment are belied by ever lewder acts of disrobing.

The evening's collapse begins not long thereafter, once Mr. Rabe has finished diagnosing the anesthetized, unhinged and unfocused lives in view. As in ''Streamers,'' one man is a psychotic waiting to detonate. When the explosion comes - in successive acts of automotive violence - ''Hurlyburly'' sputters out irrevocably. Suddenly, those characters in any remote touch with their anguish start to emote about ''desperation'' - and, as they do, the speeches buckle and the tears flow in the manner of a John Cassavetes male menopause film.

The ensuing revelations aren't terribly revealing - ''I don't feel loved,'' cries Mr. Hurt - and the tributes to the tough guys' previously hidden vulnerability are banal. At the end of both Acts II and III, it's sentimentally demonstrated that the men are at least capable of offering paternal, if not romantic, affection to the opposite sex.

This is a paltry, amorphous payoff to the strong buildup, and it's unaccountably larded with intimations of nuclear apocalypse. Mr. Hurt takes to ranting about the metaphysics of neutron bombs, as if he'd been handed spare pages from Arthur Kopit's ''End of the World.'' Perhaps a latent concern for the world's fate will at last allow this man to connect to other people - and to stop bouncing around the ''vague hurlyburly'' of his anomic existence. But we feel instead that the playwright is floundering and fudging. By imposing grand, crowd-pleasing significance on his characters, Mr. Rabe avoids the painful task of facing his own conclusions about them.

As a Mike Nichols project, ''Hurlyburly'' almost seems a hybrid of the film ''Carnal Knowledge,'' another acidic treatment of misogyny in a showbiz milieu, and ''The Odd Couple,'' a far merrier look at divorced bachelor roommates. Here, the director is highly sensitive to Mr. Rabe's languid L.A. comic rhythms; the staging is flawless, though the sordid West Los Angeles atmosphere seems several shades lighter than the real thing.

The cast could not be better. It's beyond even Mr. Hurt's power to make us care about the most articulate of the men, but the actor's febrile intelligence and sensitivity are at high flame. Mr. Walken, as a self-protective cynic, offers what may be his least mannered, most fully ripened comic performance ever. Mr. Stiller, the sole representaive of Hollywood's older, Jewish generation, is a frazzled amalgam of vulgarity and wounded vanity - loonily outfitted (by Ann Roth) in Western gear. In her smaller role, Miss Weaver sports a cloudily vacant face that nods in affectless agreement with any degrading proposition set before her. The prodigious Miss Nixon, the bright British daughter of ''The Real Thing,'' is just as persuasive as a mindless Hollywood Boulevard orphan.

Mr. Keitel and Miss Ivey rise highest in this illustrious crowd. Mr. Keitel's down-and-out actor, feral in appearance and gravelly of voice, is a dimwitted, tightly knotted animal who arouses contempt, laughter and pity. The dazzling Miss Ivey - who's surely born to rehabilitate Mr. Rabe's ''Boom Boom Room'' someday - captures the boisterous manners and miraculous strength of a somewhat sentimentalized tart. In one of the evening's snappiest lines, she announces, ''Doom and gloom have come to sit in my household like some permanent kind of electric appliance.'' Be grateful that only the second half of ''Hurlyburly'' illustrates exactly what she means.


New York Times
06/22/1984

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