Theater / Performance

Hurlyburly (New City Stage Company @ Adrianne Theater 22Mar13)

What They Say It Is:
This Tony Award-winning riveting drama took New York by storm in 1984. Two casting directors live together and provide as close to a “home life” as they can for their friends and a runaway girl. These sad socialites are nose deep in the decadent, perverted, cocaine culture that is 1980s Hollywood, pursing a sex crazed, drug-addled vision of the American Dream.

NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie
I’m sure Tara will let our readers know that she’d wanted our night out to feature a performance by a local gay chorus line, but by the time we’d wrangled a compromise, that option was sold out.  Not being the biggest fan of chorus line follies, I can’t say i was entirely disappointed.  Anyway. we’d previously seen The Wire’s Russ Widdall in another production at The Adrianne (RFK) so we were familiar with his formidable skill as a stage actor (seriously, this guy has line memorization abilities of an elephant).  I generally like the higher-quality shows performed at this theater, and the advertised description of a story set in drug-crazed Hollywood made it sound promising enough.  Tara was less enthusiastic (seriously, she really wanted to see some show tunes) but, as always, ended up being a good sport about the whole experience.

Here's a stock photo of the Adrianne (I'm padding this post because there aren't a lot of pictures of the show)

Here’s a stock photo of the Adrianne (I’m padding this post because there aren’t a lot of pictures of the show)

The moral ambiguity of this play will likely challenge some viewers, and I’ll gladly admit, will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  The personal irony, too, was almost unbearable: we’d ‘hoped’ (or at least some of us had) to attend a gay-friendly theater revue, but we ended up watching a misogynistic group of gracelessly aging men abuse their pathetic female relations–and each other–over the course of almost 3 hours.  Widdall’s Eddie is the focal point of the play, which is mostly concerned with a middle-aged Hollywood scriptwriter struggling to find life meaning and/or happiness through his various interests in drugs, alcohol, friends, the evening news, and women.  This is a dark tale–four male buddies are all treading water in various stages of Hollywood adult-adolescence, but don’t get the wrong idea–it’s nowhere near as comical as Entourage.   Characters lament the children they fathered (and lost) with long-lost girlfriends, struggle with issues of self-worth and loneliness, and use meaningless sex and illicit substances to stand in for the love they clearly (and loudly) desire.

This isn’t to say that Hurlyburly isn’t funny; the story has quite a lot of laugh moments when taken in minuscule.  Phil (Paul Felder), best friend to protagonist Eddie, is a strange hybrid of Hollywood slimeball and Johnny Drama (think dopey-leather-jacket-n-cocaine guy + emotional-wreck-on-the-downward-spiral) who’s sheer stupid masculinity makes for plenty of comic lines and goofy setups.  Nevertheless, Phil tests an audience’s sensitivities–and it’s fair to say that both he and Eddie are lovable only in the way that (truly) unhinged bros can be.  These men are inexhaustible fountains of hate-tinged, un-PC epithets about women, the world, even each other, and the vileness of their views leaves even the steeliest audience (including me, possessor of an admittedly deviant sense of humor) to wonder if we’re really supposed to be laughing.  I’m not kidding–the audience repeatedly chuckled at some repugnant antisocial line, their reaction in direct counterpoint to my own interpretation of the characters’ pathetic, self-destructive natures.  But I’m not denying that we did find humor in some of the content . . . but it’s a very black kind of laughter that you’ll find here.

Hurlyburly’s appeal was bolstered by some universally great acting, and I’m not going to spend a ton of time on the positives here–they definitely put on a worthwhile show.  It’s a testament to the players that although the character types are fairly flat and somewhat unbelievable, the skill of the actors usually allowed me to forget about their seemingly one-dimensional natures.  I can’t deny that Widdall’s Eddie occasionally reminded me of his similarly-introspective role as Robert Kennedy…but since these characters couldn’t have been more different, it was probably just some similarity of his delivery, and not specifically something to “fault” the play for.  I’m tempted to complain that Phil was ridiculously ‘stock’–over-macho, leather-jacket idiot–but in the end, this failing was fairly easy to overlook, given that Phil was a truly engaging embodiment of tragedy and tempest…a train wreck you don’t want to watch, but can’t look away from.  Other players were strong in–or at least completely adequate to–their supporting roles as neighbors, layabouts, and acquaintances (read: fuck buddies), but I was never quite comfortable with the play’s depiction of the fluffy hitchhiking girl who takes up residence on Eddie’s couch.  She, more than all the other straightforward character types, just seemed too flat and cartoonish to be believed.  In truth, her role was mainly as a sounding-board for the prejudices of these badly-behaving men, but I never quite found myself enjoying her bubbly, brainless role.

It's really pathetic, but somehow, it's often funny, too.

It’s really pathetic, but somehow, it’s often funny, too.

Hurlyburly, as both narrative and stage play, deserves a lot of credit for aspiring to layered, multifaceted storytelling that doesn’t wear it’s interpretation on it’s sleeve.  At face value, this is just a show about four pathetic men who spend more time getting wasted and complaining about life than actually facing the things that cause them pain.  Yet, by showing us that sad clowns, introspective confusions, and horrific deeds can cohabitate in the same troubled people, Hurlyburly bravely examines some of the more complicated ways that men deal with failure and their natural instincts to stay manly and defensive, even when you’re down….waaaaay down.  It wasn’t my favorite staging at The Adrianne, but I’ll give the theater and production team a good deal of credit for bringing such a weighty, morally-ambiguous work to audiences.

NEW Tara Says Graphic

I have to admit I have found this blog post difficult to write.   I don’t want to bore anyone with my own personal complaining but…..

I have a confession.  I really, really didn’t like Hurlyburley.  It had nothing to do with the actors, set design, lighting or production.  After a lot of consideration, I don’t like the play itself.    Although the female cast were decent actors, I hated their roles.  I thought they lacked depth and development as well as being nothing but backdrop (or on their backs) for the male characters.

A moment of tenderness. . . or depravity?

A moment of tenderness. . . or depravity?

One reviewer compared this play to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?”  I found this to be an adept comparison- both stories feature conflict, tension, and tragic individuals losing control and unraveling before the audience.  However, what resonates with me in WAoVW is the dynamic between the two married couples.   Martha and Nick are deeply–and sickly–devoted to each other while equally resenting and hating each other.   The theme of “games” carried throughout the play, culminating in a sick family truth.   Unfortunately, Hurleyburly lacked the depth and complexity of character that made WAVW so engaging.

the adrianne seats

If Tara had her way, the house at the Adrianne would have looked like this.

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