A powerhouse performance of verbal dexterity and high energy saw independent stalwarts Q44 Theatre punch out David Rabe’s powerful 1985 play, Hurlyburly. About a group of four men, casting agents in LA, this play takes us into the soul-destroying miasma that is the drug-fuelled reality these men call ‘home’. They expose the lows and lows of this furious meditation on the decadence of high materialism.
Presented in a unique first floor gallery-cum-theatre, Q44 continue their tradition of showcasing high-calibre plays, which lovers of good scripts and solid acting thrill to attend.
They base their performances on the intensive practice their actors undergo through regular training and workshops, under the Strasberg-trained Direction of Gabriella Rose-Carter, an Actors Studio (NY) specialist. They expertly hone their skill, and this depth of characterisation shows on their bodies, with the lines at times visibly rippling through them. There are great moments of dazzling intensity from all cast members. As a crew of highly-trained actors, every small detail is an homage to Rabe’s superlative writing.
Leave your reality tv and Facebookism to experience the visceral thrill as his words tear the air like punches, taking you by the jugular. Rabe explores the perils of machismo and the savage rupturing along gender lines of a post-feminist world. With frank talk about sex, trade offs, film deals, pick ups, ex-wives, absent children, and newborn babies, the topics these men circle are torturous. Stuck in a unique purgatory, they keep repeating the same mistakes. Rabe’s primal cry shows men at a loss to know what being a man means, in a world where there is a commodity for every need- except the human transaction, and even these feel ‘retailed’. It’s all getting and no giving. The Oedipal rage these men bear women is frequent.
The all-white set emphasises the blanking ‘white out’ of their “Bolivian health food” [cocaine] and shag-pile flokati rugs, reminiscent of male chest hair, visually ‘smother’ us in fur.
Anthony Scundi anchors as ringleader ‘Eddie’, offering everyone casual drug use and bad advice, especially about women. His portrayal is leader-strong: passionate, liable to detonate, and plagued by self-doubt. He’s disenchanted with the sales pitch Hollywood, and Western excess, sells him. Scundi astounds with his athletic animation, and his passion to follow ‘Eddie’ to the very end. All cast show this same commitment. The character at the emotional centre of the play, ‘Phil’, is searingly portrayed with heartbreaking tenderness by William Prescott. The years spent rehearsing this role show as he excavates the inner vulnerability that crucifies this man, and his quest for love in a world made wholly of ‘deals’, where he often loses out. Prescott is ‘Phil’ and allows his fragile persona to sing. These two spar with each other, but are two sides of the one face.
Emotionally intense portrayals of Rabe’s “broads” send chills down our spines, as the audience recollect what it’s like to survive in a male jungle. Nicole Melloy thrives as sexual predator ‘Bonnie’, and Amelia Bishop deftly reveals the trauma behind the ‘modern woman’ in ‘Donna’. Kostas Ilias, as happy/sad foil ‘Artie’, delivers some of the funniest lines, as a Greek chorus to these cavemen, and Will Atkinson as ‘Mickey’, shows again his mastery of dextrous verbal delivery and deft physicality. Every player is perfectly cast and brings great pathos to the tableau. The cast are 100% committed to this story and duel it out unto the very end, where there is a sense of rebirth.
Devastating and offensive, this play is not pretty but you go for the katharsis of classical theatre. This team have given everything to this beast and walk it around like a living hulk!
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
Hurlyburly runs 2 -21 May, 7:30pm Tuesday – Saturday, 6pm Sunday (150 minutes, plus a 20 minute interval) at Q44 Theatre, Richmond. Purchase tickets now. The venue is not accessible.