If Hollywood were a large stone in the middle of a swamp, then David Rabe’s Hurlyburly represents all of the creepy crawlers and slimy disgusting gunk you find underneath the rock.
This darkly comic drama is set in the Hollywood Hills. It tells the story of four miserable, self-destructive bachelors, each of whom is pursuing careers in the film industry. They don’t seem the ambitious types, however. The bachelors (Eddie, Phil, Mickey, and Artie) spend their time drinking, womanizing, and ingesting a shocking amount of cocaine. All the while, Eddie – the central character – wonders why his life is slowly rotting away to nothing.
The Male Characters:
It is debatable whether or not Eddie and his cohorts learn anything by the conclusion. But the audience gets the picture: Don’t be like Eddie. During the play’s beginning Eddies spends his morning snorting cocaine and eating slightly molded Hostess Snowballs.
Eddie desires a steady romance with Darlene (who sometimes dates his roommate). However, once he establishes a committed relationship, he subconsciously dismantles it with his paranoia. Eddie’s life is a ping-pong match, going from meaningless one-night-stand and drug binges to a “grown-up” life as an up-and-coming casting director. Ultimately, he is unhappy with both sides, and takes solace in the belief that his friends are more pathetic than he is. But as he loses his friends, he begins losing the desire to live.
Eddie’s best friend Phil is a fledgling actor and complete loser. During Act One, Phil can’t understand his own aggressive behavior. He verbally and physically abuses women, including the woman he marries and has a child with. As the play continues, Phil’s violence escalates. He picks fights with strangers, bullies his friends, and shoves a blind date out of a moving car!
There are few redeeming qualities about Phil, yet he does achieve one sympathetic moment. In Act Two, he holds his baby daughter. As he shows her to his friends he wonders dreamily about her gaze and her smile. He says of children, “Yes. They are very honest.” It’s a touching moment – one that seems to hint that perhaps Phil will not continue down his dangerous path. Sadly, the hint deceives the audience. In Act Three, Phil’s character embraces oblivion, driving his car off Mulholland Drive.
Artie feels slighted that he isn’t very close to Eddie. Every time he tells eddie about his latest Hollywood pitch, Eddie is openly pessimistic about Artie’s chances. Yet Artie proves him wrong by finally getting a production deal. Artie’s personality also develops for the better.
During Act One, he is as chauvinistic as Eddie and Phil. He finds a homeless teen-ager living in a hotel elevator. He takes her in, uses her for about a week, and then leaves her at Eddie’s house as a “present.” despite this disgusting behavior, Artie changes during Act Two after Phil treats his blind date, Bonnie, with such cruelty. Artie gains respect for Bonnie and, instead of using her like an object, he wants to spend time with Bonnie and her child at Disneyland.
Mickey is the most cold-hearted of the four men. He is also the most level-headed. He doesn’t share Eddie’s addictive behavior, nor does he rampage like the testosterone-driven Phil. Rather, he steals girlfriends from his so-called buddies only to break-up with the women days later.
Nothing is terribly important to Mickey. When Eddie is desperately grief-stricken, Mickey tells him to simply get over it. When Eddie is faced with the death of a loved one, Mickey tries to convince him that it wasn’t such a loss. And when Eddie asks, “What kind of friendship is this?” Mickey replies, “An adequate one.”
The Female Characters:
All the men treat the women characters so harshly it might be easy to mistake Hurlyburly as misogynistic. After all, the females are portrayed as drug attics and willing objects of easily-won sexuality. (Which is a fancy way of saying they sleep with a guy five minutes after meeting him). However, despite their obvious flaws, the females in Hurlyburly are the savior characters.
Bonnie offers insight and advice to the degenerative Eddie. She also gives Artie a glimpse of a “normal” sort of relationship, inspiring hope for a more balanced life.
Darlene, Eddie’s somewhat serious girlfriend, is the least interesting character, but perhaps that’s simply because she has the most self-respect. All of the other characters are so demented, It’s easy not to notice the quirk-less Darlene, but she plays an important role as Eddie’s prime motive for a less destructive lifestyle. Ultimately, however, she has enough self-esteem to walk away from Eddie, thereby evaporating his motivation.
Donna, the homeless teen-ager, accidentally makes the biggest positive impact. After wandering across California for a year, she returns to Eddie’s house. She arrives on the night Eddie is incredibly high and contemplating suicide. The girl has no idea that Eddie is experiencing these dark thoughts. Nonetheless, thanks to Donna’s philosophical speech about how she thinks the universe works, Eddie realizes that everything in the cosmos pertains to him, that he connected to all things, but it is up to him to decide what those things represent.
Donna’s words calm him down, and the drug-crazed, less-than-zero Eddie can finally get some sleep. The question is: What kind of life will he wake up to in the morning?
Note to Drama Departments:
As the character descriptions indicate, Hurlyburly is an intense drama featuring several challenging characters. Although high-school drama departments and family-oriented theaters should stay away from David Rabe’s play due to its language and subject matter, college departments and daring regional theaters should certainly check out this edgy play.