Incidental Acts of Spontaneous Cerebral Violence

Friday, January 28, 2005

Why does this all sound so familiar?

Getting Higher but Sinking Lower

Ben Brantley's take on Hurlyburly:
For the pharmaceutically fried denizens of the squalid Hollywood Hills house in which Mr. Rabe's 1984 drama takes place, drugs and alcohol are way beyond recreational status. They're what generate thought and action, love and hate, security and anxiety, often in such a blurred succession of responses that it's hard to distinguish among them.

Hedonists is not exactly the word for these folks, who cling to the margins of the film industry. Even high, they're low. But thanks to a terrific cast that parks its vanity in the wings - directed by Scott Elliott and led by Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton and Parker Posey - theatergoers are likely to experience a heady buzz of excitement and clarity that fades only in the last quarter of this three-hour production and that any of the desperate characters onstage would kill for.
. . .
These jerks are drawn, by performers and playwright, with such fine-grained artistry and accuracy that they are compulsively watchable, giving the lie to the theory that you have to like characters to be engaged by them. What the show brings out so well is the fractured consciousnesses of people whose moods are determined by their most recent forms of self-medication. Halfway through this production, it occurred to me that "Hurlyburly" may be the smartest, and certainly the least sentimental, play ever written about life on drugs.

The speech of these coke-snorting, dope-toking, tequilla-swilling characters is circular, repetitive and shot through with abrupt shifts in attitude. Yet - and this is a crucial yet - we are always aware of an aching emotional and intellectual restlessness, fed by a need for clarity, to use one of Eddie's favorite words, in a muddled, superficial environment.

The characters may be victims of the psychobabble, spiritual mantras and film jargon of the world they inhabit. But they are also perversely struggling to penetrate their self-induced haze. The production is propelled throughout by a sense of thwarted energy and a crippled quest for substance.
I may have to fly in just for this. Or perhaps I'll simply sit on my couch for a while.

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