Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JANUARY 22, 2010
Sex, drugs, Hollywood , drugs and sex. And more drugs. Did I mention drugs? Oh, and alcohol. Does that get a separate categorization? And women as demeaned, moronic playthings. Men as lost, vacant, rudderless philosophizers.
Welcome to the hurly-burly world of David Rabe’s “ Hurlyburly ,” a title taken from the witches of Macbeth. But the playwright could just as well have borrowed a quote from Macbeth himself: “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Oh boy, there’s a lot of sound. And a good deal of fury. And misogyny. And palaver. 3+ hours of nonstop blather, as a quartet of small-time, low-to-mid-level 1980s Hollywood players talk about life, hopelessness, desperation, broads, and mostly, themselves. These guys go on in their disjointed disquisitions for literally pages of text.
The play attracted very high-profile performers and won considerable acclaim, when it premiered on Broadway in 1984 and was revived in 2005. But it feels decidedly last-century. Aren’t we over those excesses yet? Haven’t men evolved vis à vis women? Some have. And I’m not sure I want to spend so much time with troglodytes like these who haven’t. Sure, the writing is incisive intelligent, even if what these guys are saying is bleak and vapid and supremely, relentlessly, repetitively nihilistic and narcissistic. Writers love to get inside the heads of bottom-dwellers. And that’s fine. But sometimes, you just wanna tell them to shut up and go away.
On the bright side, the ion theatre cast is excellent. Francis Gercke has to carry the burden of dialogue, as the central force to which all these other losers are somehow drawn. It’s a hyperverbal role, and Gercke makes it hyperactive, too, which becomes a tad wearing on the nerves. Tom Hall is terrifying as Phil, a menacing, ultra-violent ex-con and wannabe actor. He’s the only one who actually does anything… but what he does isn’t particularly attractive or admirable. It’s a riveting performance. Also spellbinding is Karson St. John as a good-natured, drug-loving stripper who gets a lot more than she bargained for with this pack of macho wackos .
Glenn Paris directs with a sure sense of who these creeps are. And yet, the characters never achieve any tragic dimensions, and we never come to care about their seedy, shallow, lonely lives. There is one surprisingly tender scene, after crazy Phil goes and kidnaps his baby from his estranged wife. Each guy, as he holds the tiny infant, reveals a genuinely soft-hearted side. Until he recognizes that this little thing will grow up to be just another “broad.” Talk about your broken spells. Broken is the operative word here. Strong performances of shattered, eternally adolescent men — and the women who allow themselves to be abused by their casually dangerous games.
“ Hurlyburly ” runs through January 30 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights .
©2009 PAT LAUNER