This crazy play about the empty-headed lives of Hollywood misfits is a commotion which starts loud and energetic, and then gets even louder.
Four young blokes, a bottom-feeding bunch of casting agents, a studio hanger-on and an ex-con wannabe actor, spit out American psycho-babble, dosed with cocaine and Scotch, to try to understand their angst and lovelessness. The answer isn’t hard.
They are a hideous bunch of self-absorbed losers, left with broken marriages and lost children, who treat their women like sex toys and punching bags. The challenge in David Rabe’s three-hour play is to keep our interest in their ranting and irrelevancies.
California’s smart sleazy culture is played out in the pastel living room of the casting agent Eddie and his housemate and partner, the chillingly distant Mickey. Eddie collects misfits who are reassuringly one step closer than he to the gutter.
This explains his friends, especially the violent Phil whose dreams of being an actor are pathetically kept alive by Eddie. And the women: Donna is an underage stray handed around the mates as a care package, and Bonnie a promiscuous exotic dancer who does things with balloons and is handed on by Eddie to suffer Phil’s violence. And that’s about it for the plot.
Hurlyburly is set in the 1980s and was a hit play before being a verbose film in 1998 with Sean Penn and Kevin Spacey.
Here revived by Group Theatre with an impressive cast, its director Iain Sinclair sees it as a tract about The Great American Emptiness and compares the writer to Arthur Miller and David Mamet.
He’s wrong. David Rabe gives us characters with no past, no evolution, and no insight into how they became the empty vessels of that Dream, beyond the fame allure of LA. We just get three hours of noisy emptiness, some artful writing and a few good laughs.
Sinclair, who in Canberra directed a string of good contemporary dramas, fails to modulate the mad volume and explore Rabe’s few quiet moments of genuine reflection. Eddie is pivotal to the play in questioning his friends and their motivations -“ let alone the neutron bomb and facile garbage of Hollywood -“ but in the manic hands of actor Ed Wightman he just spirals into unbelievability.
The charismatic Alex Dimitriades is more justifiably relentless as the sociopath Phil.
Felix Williamson gives a finely tuned performance and Emma Jackson also finds a subtlety and therefore strong humour as Eddie’s two-timing girlfriend.
The party energy of Hurlyburly is seductive but the shrill empty screaming is too much.
Hurlyburly is a Group Theatre production at the Stables Theatre until 4 June.