David Rabe takes his title for Hurlyburly from Shakespeare’s witches (A-1, S-1 MacBeth):
First Witch: “When shall we three meet again / In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
Second Witch: “When the hurlyburly’s done, / When the battle’s lost and won.”
One “battle” in seeing the current re-staging of the Tony-nominated, 1984 hit is finding the Chain Theatre in Long Island City. Another is, you must check your twenty-first-century sensibilities at the door.
The play is dated. Press notes explain: Set in the cocaine-and-sex-infused Hollywood Hills of the mid-1980s, Hurlyburly, is a chilling comedy focusing on four men caught in a world of parties, backbiting, lies, and self-obsession in the decade of decadence.
To a contemporary audience, it’s worse. The profound misogyny aside, the relentless me-me-me, and what-do-you-have-for-me, what-are-you-saying-about-me dialogue is played for humor at first – but quickly becomes tedious. Were we so much more receptive to this battering in the 1980s? (Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues won that year.)
But, on to Queens. The theatre host is quick to warn the 23 member audience that this version of Hurlyburly will be three hours long, with one intermission. It tells us something about how theatre has changed since the 80s that this rendition is the short one, trimmed by Rabe himself for a 2005 revival. Yet, it is very, very long.
The spectacle of four young men abusing substances and young women may not have been entirely redeemed by editing but a blue pencil could only have helped. All the characters are drawn, and played as, types. The lead, Eddie (Kirk Gostkowski) has the bulk of the dialogue and the coke. While you find him credible in his puerile self-centeredness, he’s hard to like. Oddly, he seems to be channelling Richard Dreyfus.
Brandon Scott Hughes gives us Phil, a psychopath barely containing his rage and violence. He hits women, even throws one from a moving car. The actor has two speeds; wheedling and pounding.
Deven Anderson plays Mickey, the aloof, blond roommate to Eddie, and his foil. He’s a snake, an opportunist and, as an actor, he has one speed.
The last of the lost boys is Artie (Chris Harcum.) He has less to do than the others and so chews less of the scenery.
Rabe’s indictment of Hollywood and the drug buzzed wannabes whom he saw driving the action there 30 years ago is his headline. The characters he gives us live exclusively in a masculine world. The women on the stage and in the backstories of the male characters are all hateful bitches, punishing mothers, and mindless sexual objects.
If the men are playing types the women are playing cartoons. Rachel Cora (Donna) plays a tumbleweed of a girl. Artie finds her in an elevator, fucks her, then delivers her to the others as a sexual gift.
Eddie and Mickey scrap over Darlene (Christina Elise Perry). Perry plays her as a sexy rag-doll.
Bonnie (Jacklyn Collier) is the girl thrown from the car. Much of what we know about her we learn when she is offstage. When she is onstage, she is genuine in her rage and vulnerability.
There are modest professional flourishes – the set (Allen Babcock) takes a blank square and offers five performance spaces; the direction (Rich Ferraioli) does keep all the parts moving.
The Chain is one of hundreds of little theaters banging out revivals and training up theatrical skills. (Even the Chain’s pitch for money is modest: $50 puts a patron at the Aluminum Chain level; $100 a steel link.)
Bottom line on Hurlyburly in Queens? It’s not just off-off-off B’way; it’s Little League – and not worth the trip.
HURLYBURLY – By David Rabe; directed by Rich Ferraioli
WITH: Kirk Gostkowski (Eddie), Brandon Scott Hughes (Phil), Deven Anderson (Mickey), Chris Harcum (Artie), Rachel Cora (Donna), Christina Elise Perry (Darlene), Jacklyn Collier (Bonnie).
Associate Director Greg Cicchino, costumes by Samantha Newby, scenic and lighting designer Allen Babcock, scenic artist Stephanie Ferraioli, Chris Schultz managed the stage, and Greg Russ designed the sound.
Presented by Variations Theatre Group, HURLYBURLY opens February 19 at The Chain Theatre, Long Island City, and runs through March 1.