Writer: David Rabe
Director: Rich Ferraioli
Reviewer: Claudia Borruso
Everything about this production is ambitious. Firstly, Hurlyburly has a running time of over 3 hours and all the real action takes place off-stage. In addition to this, Rabe’s magnificent writing is dense and difficult; it is fast-paced, seemingly superficial and beautifully philosophical and takes very finely tuned skill to present it at all, let alone bring it to life and make it entertaining. One might argue that there is a good reason the play has not been produced in almost a decade and has only seen one New York outing since its premier in 1984.
If tackling David Rabe wasn’t challenging enough, Variations Theatre Group is performing it in a small black-box space in Long Island City, which would seem surely too constrained for this hefty text. The groups solution is that director Rich Ferraioli and scenic designer R. Allen Babcock have invented a set that is masterful, unexpected and, you guessed it, ambitious. A thrust stage may not be new but when the sides are only a single seating lines and the sprawling set is both accessible and comfortably quotidian it feels more like immersive theatre. The fourth wall is used very sparingly and most entrances are made through the doors between audience seating, which draws us fully into the action as we share our protagonist’s journey to catharsis.
The protagonist – Eddie – is played by superbly talented Kirk Gostkowski. He would not be able to achieve his outstanding performance without the support of an impeccable ensemble. Hurlyburly focuses on the intersecting lives of seven characters playing in the world of 1980s Hollywood. Drink and drugs are at the center of their interactions as they crash around questioning the meaning of their lives and the nature of their relationships.
The first half is constructed mostly of two or three character scenes and could benefit from more frequent and varied pace changes to ease their length and repetition. In the second half we are treated to larger scenes and here we see how wonderfully this group of actors works together. In particular, scenes involving all of the four male characters together are hilarious and moving, showcasing consummate talent and excellent casting. Doubtless, Ferraioli’s direction is what allows these talents to shine because heuses every single inch of this stunning set to keep his actors always on the move. Ferraioli has choreographed a piece that flows with energy and clarity and, impossibly, considers every sightline to ensure full audience engagement.
Perhaps it is the ambition of Ferraioli’s directorial undertaking which has earned this production a New York Innovative Theatre Award nomination. Or perhaps it is the hard-work of a whole dream-team which overlooks nothing. With the final touches coming from a soundtrack that makes you want to dance (sound design by Gregory Russ) and costumes that will have you running to your nearest vintage store (Samantha Newby), this show at Chain Theatre has not a single weak link.
Photo: Abi Classey |Runs until 1st March 2014