Eugene Weekly : Theater : 8.26.10


Layered, Passionate Intent
HurlyBurly another winner for Trial by Fire Theatreworks
by Anna Grace

Eddie (Benjamin Newman), Phil (Ryan Olson) and Mickey (Chip Sherman). Photo courtesy Trial By Fire Theatreworks

HurlyBurly is a dark, depraved, wickedly funny, highly entertaining masterpiece. Trial By Fire Theatreworks once again takes on a tough, ambitious piece but rewards its audience with an intense production.

The play is set in Hollywood at the height of late 20th-century drug-soaked indulgence, and its action swirls around a group of narcissistic, selfish, morally pithed mid-level cogs in the fame machine.

Playwright David Rabe’s language is difficult, with characters working out their thoughts in long, twisted monologues and topic-skipping conversations. Characters peel through layer after layer of complexity with no hope of finding anything concrete in the end. HurlyBurly is one of the most ambitious undertakings I’ve seen in Eugene this year; it is performed with a frenzied passion. That it is happening in the out-of-the-way, makeshift, Upstart Crow Theater before a criminally small audience makes it all the more exciting and intimate.

Director Emily Hart had her hands full with this script. Human depravity is in high gear while characters are coming and going, fighting, screwing, vomiting, all to the flickering of a distracting TV. Her handling of the difficult timing was subtle but clear, to the point that I was arguing with my seatmate about where and when the actors might have taken an extra beat. 

Eddie (Benjamin Newman) is onstage and bringing the conversation back around to himself for nearly the entire play. Newman’s performance is is a tour de force that, if it occasionally veers towards the self-indulgent, is one of the strongest you will see in Eugene this year and certainly one of the most challenging. Ryan Olson is completely believable as the volatile Phil. Ably rounding out the male characters are Chip Sherman as the slick and soulless Mickey and Johnny Ormsbee as Artie, the quintessential Hollywood hipster.

Rabe’s females are on stage not as three-dimensional characters but to show the depths to which the men can sink. They are interestingly written and played by the actors as well as they could be. 

HurlyBurly is not an easy play to watch. The drug use is disgusting; the antics of the characters are horrifying. I found myself laughing at things that are truly sick or misogynistic. With its three acts running nearly four hours, I was ready for it to be over. But the energy, commitment and sheer ambition of the project had my blood rushing in my ears for another two hours after I got home. Anyone with a sincere interest in theater in this town should make every effort to get to HurlyBurly in its final weekend.

HurlyBurly continues Aug. 26-28 at Upstart Crow Studios. Info at and tix at the door.