Stage Review

Hurlyburly

EW's GRADE
B

Details Lead Performances: Bobby Cannavale, Josh Hamilton, Ethan Hawke and Wallace Shawn; Writer: David Rabe

It certainly smells authentic. This much can be said for the Off Broadway revival of Hurlyburly, David Rabe's 1984 rip-snorter. Fermented male musk practically rolls off the stage as Hollywood small-timers Eddie (Ethan Hawke, working hard), Phil (Bobby Cannavale, stretching the limits of a one-dimensional part), Mickey (Josh Hamilton, in deft, cool counterpoint), and Artie (Wallace Shawn, beamed in from another play on another planet) go careering around their dingy den of witless iniquity. Much like its men, the play has no urgent reason to exist and knows it. It subsists, instead, on its own ornery obsessions, catalyzed by heaping drifts of ''Bolivian health food,'' coin of the realm in '80s L.A. On its own coke-stoked terms, Scott Elliott's exhilarama is a triumph of the will — so who really needs a moment of clarity, anyway?

Proceedings begin with Eddie's exposed backside, our point of entry: We ascend (a bit) from there, as everyone bemoans the estrangement wrought of their own ''sophistication'' — this amid wallpaper that radiates beige ADD. Eddie, a white-bread refugee reinventing himself as a loutish casting agent, tries to both embrace and delay manhood by adopting struggling actor Phil — also a struggling psychotic — as a kind of alpha gimp. But Eddie and his compadres couldn't take care of a dog (''Dogs need stability,'' warns Artie), much less a violent man-child. And women? Let's just say the boys' definition of ''civilization'' is ''taking turns.'' (Hats off to Parker Posey, Catherine Kellner, and Halley Wegryn Gross for ennobling disposable roles.) But like a pal who's had one too many, Hurly-burly never believes it's made its point emphatically enough. Rabe's searing dialogue and snarling sense of disownment never flag, but this show does go on. (For three hours!) It's hard to see where its intended entropy ends and plain, pained chaos begins. Here, fury is its own reward. So party on — just know you'll be sore in the morning, and in funny places.

Originally posted Feb 07, 2005 Published in issue #806 Feb 11, 2005 Order article reprints