By BETSY ANDREWS
|Photo by Carol Rosegg
Ethan Hawke (right) is Eddie, the emotional center of a dysfunctional group of mostly men, here being courted by Phil, played by Bobby Cannavale, a lizard-like hanger-on.
The New Groups artistic director Scott Elliott has earned the rep to stock his productions with A-list actors, and the roster for his new revival of David Rabes Hurlyburly is packing in the subscription crowd. Women in furs elbow snoring husbands. Why are they snoring? They cant help themselves, despite an expertly acted production of a play thats too knowing for its own good.
A coke party gone awry, Hurlyburly blew onto Broadway in the tweaked-out mid-80s amid a flurry of acclaim. Those were the days of free-basing celebrities and Wall Street crackheads. The story of Hollywoods human marginalia on a masculinist bender for self-annihilation was hit an existential chord and was a hit. Rabe seemed to be gunning for a classic with dialogue thats almost Shakespearean in its hyper-wit and metaphors.
But 20 years hence, the plays wordiness just feels monochromatic. Everyone, no matter their level of education, speaks like a maniacal linguist. Their revelations, or lack thereof, drown in the verbose maelstrom. The effect is a highbrow flatness that even the excellent pacing and acting of this production cant ameliorate.
Hurlyburly is nearly three hours long, but the production careens at coke-addled speed. The acting is, for the most part, superb. The actors manage to pull laughs from the dystopic script. The comic chemistry is particularly fine between Parker Posey as Darleen and Ethan Hawke as Eddie in a scene culminating in a sort of non-sexlights-out when she steps from his bedroom door to the bathroom, interrupting passion to waggle her birth controlthat signifies the start of a dysfunctional relationship:
Darlene: I feel scared is what I feel. Good, too. I feel good, but mainly scared.
Eddie: Im scared.
Darlene: I mean, a year ago, I was a basket case. If we had met a year ago, I wouldnt have had a prayer.
Eddie: Me, too. A year ago, I was nuts...
They go on like this, all the while undressing and hurling themselves about Eddies apartment. Hilariously pretentious, its a scene that an audience of therapy-saturated urbanites can relate to.
Parker Posey could read the obituaries and make them funny, but Ethan Hawke does his damnedest to keep up. Hes hardworking. Onstage almost constantly, he carries the plays burly bulk. At the end, he stumbles up for his bow; hes exhausted. Sincerity isnt Hawkes problem. Or it is. Because sincerity is two parts commitment, one part earnestness. Hawkes earnestness is too wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. Hes got none of the macho charisma that would explain these other weak souls attraction to Eddie. Ever the boy ingenue, Hawke plays Eddie like a squirrel junked up on kola nuts.
Maybe thats why Bobby Cannavales Phil is so desirous of him. Eddie is Phils aging twink. His homosexual attraction to Eddie is only barely latent. In a few volcanic scenes, Phils gestures are violently sexual. At other times, hes a puppy mewling at Eddies feet. Cannavale cranks the queer subtext up so loudly that you get the idea this is Phils real problem. Hes not just a paranoid schizophrenic; hes a self-hating closet case.
It helps that Phils estranged wife, Suzie, never appears. Shes a concept, not a character. She represents marriage, children, stability, the possibilityno matter how fraughtof a functional intimate relationship with a woman. Actually, shes an impossibility for Phil, or for any of these guys.
All of them have estranged families in the wings. Theyve dumped the concept of wives for the reality of bitches. They take in the runaway Donna (Halley Wegryn Gross), call her a pet and hump her like dogs. They hate women; theyre desperate for each other. For all we know, Suzie is just another voice in Phils head. Phil even describes her as such: Right in front of me was like this cloud with her face on it, but it wasnt just her, but this cloud... Suzie is incorporeal because Phil doesnt crave her bodily, he craves Eddie.
Phil has competition. Josh Hamilton is terrific as Mickey, Eddies cynical roommate with a smarmy moustache. He prances onstage in a short, red, silk robe. He demolishes Phil and Eddie verbally, like only a good queen could. He bares the homoeroticism by joking that Phil and Eddie have fallen in love. Only, Mickey isnt gay. Hes fey the way Warren Beatty is fey in Shampoo. Hes a reptilian womanizer. Against Eddies blow-hot chaos, Mickey is cold-blooded stillness. He double-crosses Eddie with Darlene; hes merciless to everyone else. He has no conscience, yet he poses as moral arbiter. Its a goof, as hed say, but it works for him.
Theyre a neat Freudian package. Eddie equals ego, Phil is his id and Mickey is his condescending superego. Rabe even writes throwaway references to that Freudian shit into the script. Eddies third suitor, Artie, is the foil for Eddies Oedipal complex. As played by Wallace Shawn in a toupee and typical vaudevillian fashion, Artie is the father figure who brings Eddie a runaway girl to screw but who Eddie rejects and demeans.
The Freudian conceit is accentuated by claustrophobic staging. The play takes place entirely in Eddie and Mickeys shabby, sunken living room. The set makes the characters crises seem entirely internal. Eddie rattles on about how horrible the daily news is, but hes not going to do anything beyond being tormented about it. Though theyre allegedly casting directors, Eddie and Mickey dont seem to have work. When Artie jokingly calls them a couple of desperate guys, he means it. Eddie is descending into addiction; his world is very small. Hes stuck forever in the oral stage.
Ultimately, thats the rub with Hurlyburly, but its a problem in the script, not the production. Theres no evolution, no character development. Eddie opens the play on a coke, pot and booze bender and closes it just the same. Hes alienated his girlfriend, whom he seems to have loved, with his existentialist whining. His friends are sick of him. Hes untouched by the runaway whos run away and returned. The lights go down on him sitting ripped, as hed say, and blotto on his ugly brown couch, staring into the void. Though Scott Elliott is talented and so is his cast, were left, in a time of war and political urgencies, searching for the message in this revival, and drawing a blank.