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A CurtainUp Review


Hurlyburly Moves to a Brand-New Theater

With a couple of months of confronting each other night after night in this revival's original home at the Acorn Theatre, the star-studded cast has made the transition to this new (and new) venue, 37 Arts, seamlessly and, if anything, even more attuned to each other. It seems wrong to say this show is a pleasure to watch, but it's a fact; one barely notices what seems like an inordinate amount of time David Rabe spends with these desperate creatures, though at times the second act starts to test our patience.

Ethan Hawke's Eddie has the laboring oar in this play, three grueling hours spent almost entirely onstage and in a parade of assaults, both physical and mental, both self-inflicted and otherwise. Hawke does not disappoint, but it is the unflaggingly precise Josh Hamilton as his housemate Mickey who impresses one most. It's hard to avoid thinking back on Hamilton's performance in another New Group show, This Is Our Youth. The actor is about nine years older than when he first engaged Youth's drug-dealing Dennis, and so is his character here, but both trudge their way through the same early-80's time period.

Also not to be overlooked here is Scott Elliott's astute direction, which manages over and again to choreograph artfully-defined nuance. The unspoken ending of the play's second scene, underscored to perfection by Sound Designer Ken Travis' resonant choice, is a particular masterpiece.

One must be grateful for whatever combination of economics, theater availabilty and good judgment kept this show off-Broadway. The nicely-outfitted new theater, with its broad, shallow stage (not significantly different than that at the Acorn), is a comfortable, intimate venue. Street level access to mezzanine seating gives way to one flight or elevator ride down to the orchestra. This is a promising debut for this space, which will no doubt become a significant destination for Off-Broadway theater-goers.

Credits are the same as in the original. New Location and ticket information follows:
37 Arts, 450 West 37th Street (9/10 AVS)
Telephone: (212) 307-4100
MON-SAT @8, SAT @2; $76
Re-opens April 20, 2005, closes July 2, 2005
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 4/16/05 performance

---Original Review---

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
---First Witch
When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won
. --- Second Witch
, Macbeth

hurly-burly (hûrl-bûrl) --- Noisy confusion; tumult.

Let's go out. What are you hungry for? How about Chinese
--- Eddie
We could go some other place. How about Ma Maison?
--- Darlene
Eddie and Darlene's exchange, for all its hilarity, sums up Eddie's neurotic need for "clarity" and ends with his exasperated "I Mean, how can you possibly think you like them both the same? One is French and one is Chinese. They're different. They're as different as -- I mean, what is the world, one big blue to you out there in which everything that bears some resemblance to something else is just automatically put at the same level in your hierarchy, for crissake, Darlene, the only thing they have in common is that THEY'RE BOTH RESTAURANTS!"
Ethan Hawke & Bobby Cannavale
Ethan Hawke & Bobby Cannavale (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Watching the New Group's revival of Hurlyburly makes it easy to understand why Rabe's dissection of substance propelled 1980s Hollywood has frequently been labeled as a comedy-drama. The dialogue between its characters-- four thirty-ish, divorced show biz factotums and three women who wander into their misogynistic orbit -- is often rib-ticklingly funny, but it's not a comedy. What Rabe's word play exposes is the tragic shallowness and loneliness of their lives.

As it did in its original stage life, and when filmed in 1998, this production has attracted a dynamic cast. (See end of production notes for who played what in the original stage version and the film.) Though few people would be inclined to invite Rabe's substance abusing, emotional losers into their living rooms, anyone who savors good acting will want to pay a visit to the Acorn Theater to watch the actors playing them once again make colloquial poetry from the characters' angry and often disjointed ramblings.

Unlike the movie, which introduced cell phones to bring things more up to date, director Elliott has (wisely so) stuck with the 1980s decor. The only phone visible in Derek McLane's perfect Hollywood house that's not a home set is the one mounted on the kitchen wall. The remote-controlled television set features snippets from The Tonight Show as hosted by Johnny Carson. A soundscape permeated with 80's pop music from the likes of Talking Heads and David Bowie further contributse to the period aura.

The play's structure has been modernized so that it now has just one intermission, with a break after the first ninety minutes. The second and third act are rolled into one and according to advance press information, the playwright has done some trimming to accommodate a scene not in the original. Despite the excised intermission and editing, the play still runs an overly long 3-plus hours. And whatever new nuance the added scene adds fails to keep most of the final hour from being disappointingly slow and shapeless compared to some of the priceless scenes that go before -- scenes that are as fascinating and funny as they are appalling.

The "blah-blah-blah" (a favorite expression used throughout) finale even works to the detriment of Ethan Hawke's performance. Yet this shouldn't deter anyone from seeing his otherwise dazzlingly befuddled Eddie who makes his entrance even before curtain time, slumped on the couch of his living room, with half his bare backside facing the audience (a somewhat pretentious directorial touch).

There is no plot as such, just a hurlyburly of people arriving as if following the witches' pronouncement in Hamlet's first scene, to meet after battles "won and lost." As each player enters, the characters and their world come into focus. It is a world of men immersed in the Hollywood subculture of hard to get deals and easy to get drugs and sex, whose marriages failed because the only way they can relate to women is to treat them as sex objects. They may live in the 80s but they talk like 30s and 40s movie gangsters constantly referring to the women as bimbos, bitches and broads. Hurlyburly is not so much a story as a series of snapshots of boy-men and women who allow themselves to be part of their adolescent games.

First to interrupt Eddie's comatose couch potato pose is Phil (Bobby Cannavale), the not too bright, highly volatile working class ex-convict now an unemployed actor. Next to arrive is Eddie's cynical and unflappable housemate and fellow casting director Mickey (Josh Hamilton). While Eddie and Phil's friendship is, as Mickey puts it, "adequate," Artie (Wallace Shawn -- even a full, head of hair can't disguise his distinctive voice!), an older writer and the last of the four main players to show up, resents Eddie's preferring Phil's friendship to his. Artie shows up just often enough to provide some comically on the mark insights into this La-di-da land of hopes sustained by lunches and meetings -- and to deliver Donna (Halley Wegryn Gross), a homeless teenager he picked up in an elevator and brings to Eddie and Mickey as a "CARE package." Another woman fitting the men's misogynistic mindsets is Bonnie (Catherine Kellner), a nude dancer.

A third woman, Darlene (Parker Posey) is a professional photographer. She turns out to be a bone of romantic contention between Eddie and Mickey and gets to share two of the funniest "hurlyburlys" with Mr. Hawke. In the first, we see that things aren't always over when you say they are as Eddie and Darlene re-ignite their just ended relationship and head for the upstairs bedroom, encumbered by their not completely shed clothing. The second revolves around an argument over whether to eat Chinese or French food. Coming hot on the heels of Darlene's recalling that she couldn't tell which of two men fathered a baby she aborted, the interchange is fraught with a subtext that ends with Eddie saying Darlene's mind must be a complete "mental fog" because French and Chinese are entirely different and Darlene's priceless response: "Not in my inner emotional subjective experience of them!"

If I were given to star ratings, the entire case would get the highest number, with special gold stars to Josh Hamilton and Bobby Cannavale. For Hamilton, this marks a return to the understated brutality of the West Side Manhattan drug dealing slacker he portrayed in Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth. As Mickey he proves that playing kind and gentle as in The Waverly Gallery (also by Lonergan -- links to reviews here and here) has not diminished his way with men of a decidedly harder edged stripe.

Cannavale, who is probably best known as the talkative hot dog vendor in The Station Agent, is a powder keg of emotion. Though no details are given about how he landed in prison, it's a safe bet it had something to do with the violent streak that seems always ready to explode and will bring his "hurlyburly" to an unhappy end. Despitel Phil's scary violence (at one point he pushes Bonnie out of a moving car, and at another he nearly chokes Eddie to death) and his dangerous stupidity (he leaves the play's youngest "broad" unattended in a car), Cannavale at times manages to make Phil come across as a big-hearted almost likeable galoot.

Director Scott Elliott has caught both the humor and horror of Rabe's group portrait of second tier Hollywood men for whom drugs have been the nail on the coffin of their humanity -- leaving them lost, lonely and full of anger that's misdirected at women. Occasionally the blah, blah, blahing Eddie, Mickey, Phil and Artie remind one of the yadda, yadda, yaddaing Jerry, George and Kramer. Here's a remark (by Eddie) that could come straight out of George's mouth: "Everything distracts me from everything else, but what I've really noticed is that mainly, the thing I'm most distracted by is myself. I mean, I'm my own major distraction." The Seinfeld characters are clean cut and not really hostile to women and essentially comic creations. However, like Rabe's genuinely tragic figures, they are unable to sustain lasting relationships beyond their own juvenile co-dependency.

This is the third play in one of the New Group's most interesting seasons, alternating something old (Aunt Dan and Lemon ) with something new (Sin -- with another New York premiere, Terrorism by the Russian Presnyakov Brothers, scheduled next Spring). No wonder this company's productions attract the young audiences most Broadway producers are so eager to reel into seats that can cost twice as much and offer less uniformly excellent sightlines.

Written by David Rabe
Directed by Scott Elliott
Cast: Ethan Hawke (Eddie), Bobby Cannavale (Phil), Josh Hamilton (Mickey), Catherine Kellner (Bonnie), Parker Posey (Darlene), Wallace Shawn (Artie), Donna (Hallley Wegryn-Gross).
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Jeff Mahshie
Lighting Design: Jason Lyons
Sound Design: Ken Travis
Fight Director: J. Steven White
Running time: 3 hours and 10 minutes, plus one 10-minute intermission.
New Group at Clurman Theater, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, 212/239-6200
From 1/11/05 to 3/05/05--extended to 3/19/05; opening 1/27/05.
Tickets: $50
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 21 press preview
The original stage version directed by Mike Nichols, at the Promenade off-Broadway (6/21/84 to 7/29/84) and the Barrymore on Broadway (8/07/84 to 6/02/85), featured William Hurt as Eddie, Ron Silver as Mickey, Harvey Keitel as Phil and Jerry Stiller as Artie. Bonnie was played by Judith Ivey, Donna by Cynthia Nixon (who, when the play moved to Broadway, "commuted" each night between this play and The Real Thing which played across the street) and Darlene by Sigourney Weaver. The New York cast actually premiered the show in Chicago with Christopher Walken as Mickey.

The 1998 film featured Sean Penn as Eddie, Kevin Spacey as Mickey, Chazz Palminteri as Phil, Gary Shandling as Artie. Robin Wright Penn, Anna Paquin and Meg Ryan played Darlene, Donna and Bonnie respectively. Though shorter by an hour, the film was opened up to include a handful of peripheral roles.
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