Review: HurlyBurly (Column 13)

The set, which the audience can see before the play begins, is the shared area of an apartment.

There’s a couch, a comfy looking chair, and a low table covered in magazines.

Before long, we see a man in his young adulthood snort a small baggy of cocaine from this table.

Smoke from burning weed and cigarettes soon began to settle on my face, around my collar, and – remarkably – the crooks of my elbows.

My skin felt hot. The air made me a bit claustrophobic.

This is Los Angeles in the 1980s. And the characters, Eddie, referenced above, and his friends – Phil, Artie, and Bonnie – in addition to Mickey, who drinks more than he smokes or snorts, and two young women – Donna, a drifter, and Darlene, a model – are its denizens.

This is the world of HurlyBurly, which plays until September 29th at Unit 102.

I was drawn to HurlyBurly by name recognition. I’d heard of its playwright, David Rabe, before. I knew next to nothing about his work, though.

What have you heard?

The person beside me, whom I asked, told me she read the play years ago. It’s long, she said.

I stared at the set until the lights went down.

Watching the first act, I felt something like the hypnosis of watching the boxcars of an accelerating freight train go by. Anticipating what was going to come next – the shape, color, and exoticism –was not unlike the sensation I felt listening to Eddie, Phil, and later, Mickey, Artie and Donna. The paranoid, selfish discourse was all linked, but with surprising, occasionally spurious connections.

For all the prodigious drug use, enough Quaaludes taken to kill a Thanksgiving turkey, and enough empty baggies of powder to store the bird in a fridge, the characters barely acknowledge the stuff.

The drugs are almost as much a part of the set as the couch or the chair.

Drug use, and reminiscing on earlier times, no doubt also fueled by drugs, pushes the characters into some dark, and then much darker, territory.

It’s the type of hedonism the Bible warns against; that brinks on the depraved. Not that this is at all a bad thing when you’re watching a play – or, at least, not to me. I was drawn in deeper as the characters strip away the threadbare dignity that they begin with.

By the third act, they’re all emotionally naked.

So this is why Mr. Rabe has the reputation he does, I thought to myself. With the simplest elements, the playwright has exposed Eddie and his reckless Epicurean friends as lost and vulnerable and, in the case of Eddie, very angry.

With all this, Mr. Rabe’s cast of misfits totally gained my sympathy.

This is a feat that only the best writers can pull off, and; only with exceptionally talented actors – including Chris Lindsay as Eddie, Kaumil Manzoor as Phil, Vesna Radenkovic as Bonnie, and Laura Laing as Donna – which this production of HurlyBurly has.

I’d very strongly recommend it!

 

Details

HurlyBurly plays at Unit 102 (376 Dufferin) until Saturday, September 29th
– Shows begin at 8:00 PM
– Tickets are $15.00
– Tickets may be purchased at the door, or by calling 416-536-0048
– For more information on the production, please visit column13.org