We're in a house on the outskirts of Hollywood, filled with people on the outskirts of show business. Roommates Eddie and Mickey are casting directors, Phil is an ex-con and would-be actor, and Artie is a producer who spends much of his time on his mobile phone trying to make a deal. (And since Hurlyburly is set in the early 1980s, that phone is pretty big.) These men are ruthless and self-absorbed, and they're constantly careening from one high to the nextcocaine, marijuana and vodka are always within reach. For these guys, the drugs are a handy way to mask the emptiness in their lives. Phil has a penchant for random violence, and all those drugs make him even more volatile. And Eddie, who acts as Phil's protector, can't bear to face up to his responsibility to put Phil on the right track; that would require doing some hard work instead of getting high.
Hurlyburly derives much of its appeal from the way the men disintegrate before our eyes. Its greatest weakness is in its treatment of women. The play's three womena promiscuous stripper, a teenaged transient, and a stylish photographerhave depth, intelligence, and intriguing backstories. And they're played with a great deal of empathy by Mary Lee Bednarek, Sarah Van Auken, and the especially fine Christie Parker. But seeing these women mistreated and dehumanizedbasically passed around amongst the men for sexmakes for some uncomfortable viewing, even though it's clear that Rabe is on the women's side.
Hurlyburly is a showcase for some terrific, flashy acting, and Paul Felder (as the super-aggressive Phil) and Russ Widdall (as the passive-aggressive Eddie) definitely provide that. Robert Smythe's Mickey is too subdued to make a strong impression, but Bruce Graham hits some sympathetic notes as Artie, who belatedly develops a conscience when he realizes the gang's hedonism has gone too far.
Matt Sharp's lighting comes at the actors from multiple directions, and it keeps shifting its intensity and focus, heightening the drama. The set, designed by S. Cory Palmer, is dominated by tall bookcases filled with books we know will never be read. This is Hollywood, after all.
Hurlyburly runs through March 24, 2013, and is presented by New City Stage Company at the Main Stage at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $10-$35 and available by calling the box office at 215-563-7500 or online at www.NewCityStage.org.