David Rabe 1940-
American playwright, novelist, and screenwriter.
Hailed by Joseph Papp, director of the New York Shakespeare Festival's Public Theatre, as “The most important writer we've ever had,” Rabe established his reputation in the early 1970s as the major playwright of the Vietnam-War era. His angry and violent depictions of men at war and veterans returning home struck a particularly powerful chord with those who lived through the conflict. Rabe's works tackle the difficult subjects of the disintegration of the American value system, the inability to communicate, and the search for a sense of self. He has also explored issues surrounding drug addiction and the abuse of women. Called by one critic “the Neil Simon of desperation and death,” Rabe features in his plays violence and brutality laced with black humor. Rabe commented on his own alienation as a returned veteran, “It wasn't just that I couldn't reach my family. I couldn't reach anybody. People would listen attentively, but not understand a thing.” Rabe dismisses the claim that he writes anti-war plays, “All I'm trying to do is define the event for myself and for other people. I'm saying, in effect, ‘This is what goes on,’ and that's all.”
Born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa, Rabe attended a Catholic high school, where his teachers encouraged his writing talents. He entered the military in 1965 and did a two-year tour of duty in Vietnam during the war. After his return, he attended Villanova University on a Rockefeller Playwrighting Fellowship and again received encouragement from his teachers and fellow students, later becoming an assistant professor there. In fact, Rabe was so impressed by the nurturing environment at the university that he returned to Villanova for early productions of many of his plays and dedicated the 1993 publication of The Orphan to the teachers and students of Villanova. Joseph Papp was responsible for putting on Rabe's first professionally produced play, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971). When Sticks and Bones opened later that year at the Anspacher, Rabe became the only playwright other than Shakespeare to have two plays performed concurrently at the Public Theatre. Although his next few plays did not meet with as much critical success, Streamers—first produced at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre in 1976—received tremendous acclaim and is still considered by many critics to be his best work. In addition to his plays, Rabe has written or adapted numerous screenplays with varying success. He continues to write for the stage, and the body of scholarly analysis and criticism that has built up around his work testifies to his importance to American theater.
Critics often refer to Rabe's “Vietnam Trilogy,” by which they mean his three plays about men involved in the Vietnam War: The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, Sticks and Bones, and Streamers. Pavlo Hummel is the story of a young man who is attempting to create an identity for himself by becoming a soldier. Sticks and Bones, a highly symbolic play, utilizes neomodernist techniques to present the return of a disabled veteran to his home and family. Streamers—the title refers to parachutes that do not open—considered the most realistic of Rabe's plays, takes place in Vietnam but utilizes the setting as a symbol of the world in which, according to Gerald Weales of Commonweal, “eventually, everyone's parachute refuses to open.” According to Rabe, The Orphan (1973), based on the Oresteia, should be considered his fourth Vietnam play because, although it does not take place in Vietnam, its attempt to link modern violence with Greek mythology echoes his experience of the war.
Another of Rabe's plays that received considerable critical attention is Hurlyburly (1984). Set in a bachelor home in Hollywood, it explores the disintegration of American values. It features four men with entertainment careers, living a “free” and rootless life, using cocaine and alcohol, while engaging in casual, disinterested sexual relations. Rabe shows how imprisoned these men and their women are by their “free” lifestyle, their inability to communicate, and their loss of purpose. Noting stylistic changes from Rabe's earlier work, Robert Brustein commented that Hurlyburly lifted Rabe's writing to a higher level: “Like O'Neill, who achieved greatness only when he adopted an unadorned Ibsenian realism, Rabe's style is now informed by the implicit verismo of David Mamet rather than the tendentious exhortations of Arthur Miller … displaying a dazzling new technique—not just a flawless command of dialogue, but an informed understanding of the nuances of human conflict … Mr. Rabe remains a dynamic chronicler of the brutal games that eternally adolescent American men can play.” Newsweek's Jack Kroll called Hurlyburly a virtual masterpiece “a powerful permanent contribution to American drama” that combines comedy and violence. Rabe later adapted Hurlyburly into a screenplay, and it was produced as a movie.
Rabe's use of strong language and visual acts of violence have helped earn him a number of dramatic awards, as well as a mixture of critical praise and chastation. Theater critic Clive Barnes surmised the overall critical reaction to Rabe's dramas in his commentary on Hurlyburly: “I was entertained, horrified, intrigued, and disturbed.” Inconsistencies between style and tone has been one of the major critical disagreements over Rabe's dramatic works. His reviews, in general, praise his strong first acts but denounce his weak second or third acts. This reaction was common for Hurlyburly and Goose and Tomtom (1982). The Vietnam Trilogy has been the most critically praised body of Rabe's work, with his later works garnering mixed reviews over questions of misogynistic motifs, long production times, and a tendency towards self-indulgence. The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel received the Obie Award for distinguished playwrighting from the Village Voice, the Drama Desk Award, and the Drama Guild Award, all in 1971. Critics were mixed in their responses to Sticks and Bones, but in general found it to be powerful and passionate. It received several awards, including the prestigious Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best play of the 1971-72 season on Broadway. Streamers received a New York Drama Critics Circle citation in 1972 and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best American play in 1976. Rabe was also presented with the National Institute and American Academy Award in Literature in 1976, the same year he was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship.
*The Bones of Birds 1968
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel 1971
Sticks and Bones 1971
In the Boom Boom Room 1973
Goose and Tomtom 1982
Cosmologies (unfinished drama) 1990
Those the River Keeps 1991
A Question of Mercy 1997
Gilgamesh the Prince 1999
I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can (screenplay) 1982
Streamers (screenplay) 1983
Casualties of War (screenplay) 1989
The Firm [with David Rayfiel and Robert Towne] (screenplay) 1993
Hurlyburly (screenplay) 1998
*This work was revised as Orestes and the E=MC2 in 1970 and as The Orphan in 1973.
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Brustein, Robert. “The Crack in the Chimney: Reflections on Contemporary American Playwriting.” Theater 9, no. 2 (spring 1978): 24.
[In the following excerpt, Brustein considers Rabe's use of the family to reflect societal problems.]
More often than not, American mainstream dramatists continue to explore the causes behind their effects; the event to be excavated is still the guilt of the (generally older generation) protagonists; and the drama retains the air of a courtroom, complete with arraignments, investigations, condemnations, indictments, and punishments.
Take David Rabe, perhaps the most typical and the most highly esteemed of the younger generation playwrights. Rabe has been called the likely successor to Eugene O'Neill—but a perfunctory glance at his accomplishments soon reveals that he has a closer relative in Arthur Miller. Like Miller, Rabe is fundamentally a social dramatist, fashioning vague attacks on the system; like Miller, he identifies the nexus of corruption in the heart of the family; and like Miller, he will occasionally make modest departures from domestic realism in order to indict his middle-class characters for the crimes of the nation at large.
In Rabe's case, these crimes are almost invariably linked with the Vietnam War—an event that continues to obsess him, not surprisingly, since he is a veteran of that war. In Sticks...
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SOURCE: Werner, Craig. “Primal Screams and Nonsense Rhymes: David Rabe's Revolt.” Educational Theatre Journal 30, no. 4 (December 1978): 517–29.
[In the following essay, Werner describes Rabe's attempts to overcome alienation in the American experience with a new form of expression.]
Ishmael, dreaming in the crow's nest but fearful of crashing to the solid deck, provides the standard image of the classic American writer trapped between irreconcilable forces of transcendence and reality. As Richard Chase suggests, the greatest works of the American imagination create “a profound poetry of disorder” and “achieve their very being, their energy and their form, from the perception and acceptance not of unities but of radical disunities.”1 David Rabe is, in these terms, a classic American writer. Rabe's character O'Flannagan confronts these disunities when, as a joke, he releases his parachute pack in midair, only to find, when he reaches up, that it is no longer within reach. O'Flannagan (a.k.a. Yossarian, Tyrone Slothrop) provides the developing image of the contemporary “classic” American writer-qua-clown. As Bruce Jay Friedman argues, the “black humor” which developed in American writing of the 1960s and 1970s derives from the perception of “a fading line between fantasy and reality, a very fading line, a goddamned almost invisible line” accompanied by “a nervousness,...
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SOURCE: Hertzbach, Janet S. “The Plays of David Rabe: A World of Streamers.” In Essays on Contemporary American Drama, edited by Hedwig Bock and Albert Wertheim, pp. 173–85. Munich: Max Hueber Verlag, 1981.
[In the following essay, Hertzbach examines Rabe's use of violence in his plays.]
The title and central metaphor of David Rabe's most recently produced play, Streamers (1976), provides a retrospectively useful way of describing the dramatic contexts of his four preceding plays as well. A streamer is a parachute which fails to open, and the thin ribbon of silk merely trails the hapless jumper as he plummets towards certain death. As he leaps out of the safe womb of the airplane, he is born, after a few moments, into a brief life governed by the terror of circumstance, the rule of irrationality, and the absence of alternatives to the destruction awaiting him. There is no opportunity for reflection or insight, and there is no reality except for the immediacy of personal disaster. Like the parachutist, the main characters in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (produced 1971), Sticks and Bones (produced 1971), The Orphan (produced 1973), In the Boom Boom Room (produced 1973), and Streamers itself are busy, in their varying ways, discovering death.
Rabe's body of work thus far is very closely linked, thematically, to the time in which he was...
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SOURCE: Kolin, Philip C. “Notices of David Rabe's First Play, ‘The Chameleon’ (1959).” Resources for American Literary Study 17, no. 1 (spring 1990): 95–107.
[In the following essay, Kolin recounts Rabe's high school career and the production of his first play, now lost.]
Acknowledged as one of the most important playwrights in contemporary America, David Rabe (born 10 March 1940) established his reputation in the early 1970s as the major playwright of the Vietnam War. A veteran of that war, Rabe had seen some of its ravages. Joseph Papp, who helped launch Rabe's career at the New York Public Theater, exclaimed that “He is the most important writer we've ever had” (Gussow 43). Speaking for many critics, Gerald M. Berkowitz observed that Rabe “dramatized the damage done to the American spirit by the Vietnam war more eloquently, perhaps, than any writer in any genre” (136). Rabe's most famous work is his Vietnam trilogy—The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971), Sticks and Bones (1971; for which he won a Tony), and Streamers (voted the Best Play of 1976 by the New York Drama Critics Circle). Pavlo chronicles the fate of a gung-ho recruit destroyed by deceptive myths of heroism and manhood; in Sticks an American family helps to murder their blind veteran son because he brings the terrifying truths of the war home; and in Streamers violence...
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SOURCE: Christie, N. Bradley. “Still a Vietnam Playwright After All These Years.” In David Rabe: A Casebook, edited by Toby Silverman Zinmah, pp. 97–111. New York: Garland Publishing, 1991.
[In the following essay, Christie discusses the feeling of instability at the heart of Rabe's plays.]
David Rabe is a playwright of anomalies. His art consistently explores problematic cultural material or characters, and the artist himself is equally hard to pigeonhole. He is not really a “Broadway playwright,” nor a product of Off Broadway or the regional theatres. Because of the Papp connection with the early plays, some might lump him among the darlings of Off-Off Broadway, but such a label would belie quite respectable showings on Broadway and elsewhere. And Rabe certainly does not think of himself as a “school” or “house” playwright: reflecting on the early years, he notes, “I didn't fit anywhere. Finally Joe [Papp] did my work because he wanted new American political plays. But Pavlo confused him. Palvo's not a conventionally sympathetic, straightforward character” (Savran 197). Even to label him as a playwright is to ignore a considerable output of other work, most notably a growing body of screenplays as controversial as the dramas. Again, in a 1986 interview with David Savran, Rabe comments on what he describes as “a curious split” in his pre-professional days between...
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SOURCE: McDonough, Carla J. “David Rabe: Men Under Fire.” In Staging Masculinity: Male Identity in Contemporary American Drama, pp.103–32. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 1997.
[In the following essay, McDonough examines Rabe's depiction of men in his plays.]
Although he originally established himself as a playwright of Vietnam plays, Rabe's central concern does not begin or end with war. His focus is more consistently upon myths of identity. Although he explored some myths concerning women in In the Boom Boom Room (1973), his other plays, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971), Sticks and Bones (1971), Streamers (1976), Goose and Tomtom (1986), Hurlyburly (1984), and even the flawed The Orphan (1974), focus on male systems of identification. Rabe's interest in masculinity has become more pronounced with each play he writes. According to an interview with Toby Zinman, he is working on a trilogy of plays concerning the Gilgamesh legend of male friendship as well as a novel about the adventures of the prince in the story of Rapunzel. Rabe even says that he sees Gilgamesh “as potential maleness” (Zinman 6). As his references to Jung in interviews and his own prose indicate, his more recent projects are evidently heavily influenced by Jungian thought and seem to be for Rabe something of the archetype of “maleness,” or of the search for...
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Criticism: Author Commentary
SOURCE: Zinman, Toby Silverman, and David Rabe. “Interview.” In David Rabe: A Casebook, pp. 3–15. New York: Garland Publishing, 1991.
[In the following interview conducted in 1990, Rabe discusses his influences and interests, including language and ancient folk legends.]
[Those the River Keeps is Rabe's first new play in more than six years, and thus constitutes a major event in the theatrical community. It will open under his direction at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton early in 1991. It takes up the character Phil from Hurlyburly, his marriage, and his life in California as it is interrupted by the appearance of Sal from his gangster past. When I suggested to Rabe that the two plays could be combined in some marathon theatre event, he playfully explained: “it would go like this: you'd see Act One of River, and then Act One of Hurlyburly, and then Act Two of River and then Two and Three of Hurlyburly, so that when Phil shows up at the top of Act Two in Hurlyburly getting a divorce, the preceding event you would have just witnessed would be of him and Susie making up. There is, though, the possibility of a third play on these people—unwritten at the moment—which might alter this sequence.” After I read the typescript, I commented to Rabe that Sal seemed like Phil cubed. He laughed and said, “I wonder what Sal cubed is. The devil, I...
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Criticism: Sticks And Bones
SOURCE: Adler, Thomas P. “‘The Blind Leading the Blind’: Rabe's Sticks and Bones and Shakespeare's King Lear.” Papers on Language and Literature 15, no. 2 (spring 1979): 203–06.
[In the following essay, Adler compares Sticks and Bones with King Lear.]
Near the end of Sticks and Bones, the middle play of David Rabe's Vietnam trilogy, the son David, returning home from the war physically blinded but with moral insight, chides his father Ozzie, “They will call it madness. We will call it seeing.”1 He thereby links together the drama's two pervasive verbal and visual image patterns of reason in madness and sight in blindness which confirms what an alert audience could be expected to recognize: Rabe's indebtedness to Shakespeare's King Lear for certain symbols, character configurations, and thematic motifs. When David is delivered to the family's glossy living room like some grotesque practical joke, an unordered and unwelcome “parcel” (p. 127) for which the father must sign “a shipping receipt” (p. 133), Ozzie, in response to the Sgt. Major's matter-of-fact statement, “He's blind,” replies, “Ohhh. I see” (pp. 127-28). But all Ozzie sees is the fact of David's blindness, without realizing any of its deeper implications. When David taunts his father, “You will have eyes,” Ozzie deliberately chooses to remain in his condition of...
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SOURCE: Bernstein, Samuel J. “Sticks and Bones by David Rabe.” In The Strands Entwined: A New Direction in American Drama, pp. 95–107. Boston: Northeastern University, 1980.
[In the following essay, Bernstein examines and discusses criticism of Sticks and Bones and shows how the play combines realism and absurdism.]
A REVIEW OF THE CRITICISM
David Rabe's Sticks and Bones1 joins his plays The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Streamers to form a trilogy ostensibly concerned with military matters and the moral outrage of war.2 Both Sticks and Bones and Pavlo Hummel were first professionally produced by Joseph Papp's Public Theater in 1971; as Mel Gussow informs us, it was the first time that the Public Theater had produced two plays by the same author simultaneously.3 Subsequent to its off-Broadway run, the play was produced at Broadway's Golden Theatre, and an unauthorized version was presented at the Sovremennik Theater in Moscow.4 Finally, after some delay and controversy, CBS aired the play on American public television.5
Written shortly after Rabe returned from service in Vietnam, Sticks and Bones is concerned with the return of a blind American war veteran to his home. Just as Rabe was struck by the indifference of his fellow citizens to the...
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SOURCE: Cooper, Pamela. “David Rabe's Sticks and Bones: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” Modern Drama 29, no. 4 (1986): 613–24.
[In the following essay, Cooper provides a critical analysis of Sticks and Bones.]
For David Rabe, the Vietnam war has been a source of artistic inspiration and creativity. His political and social consciousness, fused with his command of dramaturgy, produces taut expositions of the encounter between the American psyche and a war which assaulted some of the most traditional American values. His “Vietnam Trilogy” is clearly based on knowledge gained at first hand: he spent two years in Vietnam with a hospital support unit and later tried to return there as a war correspondent. This personal experience of the war is central to Rabe's career. A Fullbright Fellowship then enabled him to complete the first two plays of the Trilogy: The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Sticks and Bones.
Rabe worked on both plays simultaneously: he wrote several drafts of Pavlo while developing the early versions of Sticks and Bones.1 When Pavlo was finally produced, it brought Rabe the favourable attention of critics, and this success spurred him to revise and complete Sticks and Bones. It appeared in 1971, produced by Joseph Papp for the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre. The second play in turn...
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Criticism: The Orphan
SOURCE: Andreach, Robert J. “Unredeemed Savagery in The Orphan: David Rabe's Contemporary Oresteia.” Classical and Modern Literature 15, no. 4 (summer 1995): 329–44.
[In the following essay, Andreach compares Rabe's The Orphan with the original Greek work that inspired him to write it.]
While composing an afterword for the 1993 publication of his four Vietnam plays spawned by the war, David Rabe discovered the past to be alive. “Vietnam,” he writes, “rises before me as our communal manifestation of an urge toward a shadowy savagery innate in all human character but with specifics reflecting the individuality of our society, the true assertion of our deepest, unacknowledged values.”1 He does not link the savagery and Dionysian energy in this passage, although the fourth play, The Orphan, does by linking Apollo and Dionysus. The afterword links the contemporary world and the ancient world, his theater and the theater of classical Greece. The penultimate paragraph states that the issues the first three plays raise are revisited in The Orphan but “not so much resolved as transmogrified and mythologized. These trends in the human psyche are viewed as ancient and eternal, as they return and evolve in order to reoccur ‘differently'” (196).
The ancient and eternal truths that The Orphan mythologizes are those in Aeschylus'...
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Criticism: In The Boom Boom Room
SOURCE: Wade, Les. “David Rabe and the Female Figure: The Body in the Boom Boom Room.” Text and Performance Quarterly 12, no. 1 (January 1992): 40–52.
[In the following essay, Wade discusses Rabe's use of a nude female dancer at the end of In the Boom Boom Room and its significance both to the play and to varied members of the audience.]
The closing scene of David Rabe's play In the Boom Boom Room employs a female nude in its rhetorical attack on sexism; the principal character resigns herself to the emotional and economic pressures of the male dominated order and appears finally on stage as a topless dancer. Although Rabe's play clearly evinces a didactic aspect, one that argues for female advancement, the work may reproduce the oppression it repudiates. The play's formal style and structure may involve an element of subjection, whereby the female figure experiences a textual appropriation. Nonetheless, Rabe's play works oppositionally in that the nude actor may also incite a kind of disruption. In Chrissy's go-go dance, the fictive (signified) component of the character is suppressed and displaced by the material (signifier) aspect of the performer's own body—this phenomenon may promise the overthrow of textual authority and the expression of female agency. This essay in essence explores the equivocal implications of Chrissy's enactment, examining the imperial nature of theatrical...
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SOURCE: Kolin, Philip C. “Rabe's Streamers.” Explicator 45, no. 1 (fall 1986): 63–4.
[In the following essay, Kolin describes Streamers as a coming-of-age story.]
The last play in his Vietnam trilogy,1 David Rabe's Streamers (1976) explores an archetypical theme—the rite of passage into manhood—in the lives of four young soldiers (Billy, Roger, Richie, Carlyle) who are in a period of transition from stateside Army life to Viet Nam combat. The testing ground for these young men is a barracks frequently described as “a home,” “my house,” or a “happy family” where they are to learn the “obligations” of soldiering.2 An essential character in their drama of manhood is the father (or father figure); and multiple examples in Streamers underscore Rabe's message about the failure of fatherhood for a Viet Nam generation.3 The sons in the barracks are abused, betrayed, and deserted by fathers who are alcoholic, diseased, self-destructive, and malicious. (Ironically, LBJ is likened to Hitler [page 31] in leading the American fatherland.) Appropriately, Streamers may rival any other American play in its blatant use of phallic symbols; but the symbolic phalli in Streamers—liquor bottles, knives, stakes, and the streamers (or unopened parachutes—the “Big icicle” [page 41]) which lend their metaphoric name to the...
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SOURCE: Brady, Owen. “Blackness and the Unmanning of America in Dave Rabe's Streamers.” War, Literature, and the Arts 9, no. 1 (spring 1997): 141–52.
[In the following essay, Brady discusses Rabe's use of racism and other prejudices in his plays, focusing on Streamers.]
In his 1973 “Introduction” to the volume comprised of the two earliest plays in his Vietnam trilogy, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Sticks and Bones, Dave Rabe links the Vietnam experience to American tribalism of which racism is a part rooted in “sex, or more exactly miscegenation” (Rabe Two Plays xxiii). Both these early plays explore the immediacy of Vietnam, one set in training and combat, the other in the middle-class home of a wounded, returned soldier; neither explores extensively the war's roots in the soil of American racism. In Streamers (1977), however, Rabe literally pushes Vietnam off-stage to probe the racism that contributed to America's prolonged, deadly, and socially divisive engagement with an Asian Other.1 Set in a barracks room and dealing with central characters anxiously awaiting shipment to a new, mysterious war in Vietnam, Streamers is the lacerating ritual of young men seeking manhood in a racialized and sexualized America. Rabe precipitates their passage to manhood through an encounter with an African American Other and in the process...
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SOURCE: Leiter, Robert. “Theater Chronicle.” Hudson Review 38, no. 2 (summer 1985): 297–99.
[In the following, Leiter reviews Mike Nichols's production of Hurlyburly.]
Hyperbole as a staple of drama criticism is nothing new, and the nearly unanimous praise that has greeted David Rabe's Hurlyburly is a prime example of the phenomenon. The play is by no means “a powerful permanent contribution to American drama”; rather, it is overly long, unconvincing, muddled in thought and filled with bombastic language masquerading as the height of realistic speech. Yet what is most frustrating about the work is that lurking beneath the tiresome rhetoric is a fine idea for a play that Rabe (and, by extension, his director Mike Nichols) refuses to face.
The scene is a house in the Hollywood Hills shared by two casting agents, Eddie and Mickey, both of whom are divorced. Eddie is a long-winded fellow, given to philosophical pronouncements, who “does” every imaginable kind of drug and ends his days falling asleep in front of the TV. Mickey is a more cynical type who tries, with little success, to enlighten his friend. Like the rest of the people in the play, Mickey dabbles in what he calls “a variety of pharmaceutical experiments,” but only when it pleases him. He takes a dim view of Eddie's obvious dependence.
The two men are visited off and on by two friends,...
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SOURCE: Weales, Gerald. “American Theater Watch, 1984-1985.” Georgia Review 39, no. 3 (fall 1985): 619–21.
[In the following essay, Weales comments on an interview with Rabe and Neil Simon on the dark comedy found in Hurlyburly.]
There was a joint interview with Neil Simon and David Rabe in The New York Times Magazine for 26 May 1985, and, as the Times said in its introductory remarks, “their attitudes and methods of play writing turned out to be strikingly similar.” That might at first seem a little odd since Simon is the most triumphantly successful Broadway playwright of the last twenty-five years, and Rabe, since he arrived in New York in 1971 with The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Sticks and Bones, has been recognized as a dramatist of importance, a label that has more to do with artistic than with financial success. “Playwrights talk to commuters,” Carlotta O'Neill is supposed to have said. “Dramatists talk to God.” Yet, Simon and Rabe share a black view of the human condition, one that has led Rabe toward tragedy, for all that he dismisses Aristotle in the Times interview, even as it has led Simon to comedies like The Prisoner of Second Avenue, produced the year Rabe hit New York, in which the relentless accumulation of indignities begins to suggest that Simon's protagonist inhabits not a barely livable New York but a malevolent...
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SOURCE: Kolin, Philip. “Staging Hurlyburly: David Rabe's Parable for the 1980s.” Theatre Annual 41 (1986): 63–78.
[In the following essay, Kolin analyzes Hurlyburly.]
Hurlyburly is David Rabe's auspicious seventh and most recent play. According to Jack Kroll, the play “made theatrical history of a sort.”1 After a brief run at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, Hurlyburly was staged successfully in New York, not on Broadway but on off-Broadway, at the relatively small Promenade Theatre in the middle of the summer of 1984. It was directed by Mike Nichols (who also directed Rabe's earlier Streamers), boasted an all-star cast including Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Jerry Stiller, and others, and then, financially fortified, went on to 343 Broadway performances. While not all the reviews were rave, overall they were encouraging. Besides the praise from Kroll (“a powerful, permanent contribution to American drama”), Frank Rich observed that “Hurlyburly offers some of Mr. Rabe's most inventive and disturbing writing in a production of any playwright's dreams.”2 Robert Brustein predicted that Hurlyburly “may well go down in theatre history as a watershed of American playwrighting.”3 While Clive Barnes recognized Hurlyburly to be “an important play,”4 Gerald Weales proclaimed that it deserved a Tony,...
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Criticism: A Question Of Mercy
SOURCE: Upchurch, Michael. “Oh ‘Mercy’! This Production is Full of Emotion.” Seattle Times (13 May 1999).
[In the following review, Upchurch critiques a production of A Question of Mercy performed at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, Washington.]
A David Rabe play is like a supple dance done with sharp instruments. Its movement arrests you, even as its scalpel edges threaten you. That, at least, is how A Question of Mercy works in Intiman Theatre's taut, if occasionally overly mannered production.
While Rabe's recurring focus is the extremes of human behavior, those extremes, in his hands, can consist of giddy absurdities as much as unvarnished misery. Sometimes his characters' anguish seems self-imposed, as it did with the willfully nutty Hollywood schemers of Hurlyburly (recently filmed). And sometimes it feels preordained by outward circumstance.
Few would deny that the anguish the protagonists suffer in A Question of Mercy is beyond their control. The circumstances? A young man terminally ill with AIDS (the year is 1990) decides to die and wants to manipulate his lover, his best friend and a doctor-acquaintance into making sure his suicide goes as painlessly and effectively as possible.
His plans are tough to make stick, however. They're fraught with ethical dilemmas and raise the specter of laws that forbid...
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Barbera, Jack. “The Emotion of Multitude and David Rabe's Streamers.” American Drama 1, no. 2 (fall 1997): 50–66.
Explores Rabe's use of dramatic technigues that stimulate imagination and give Streamers wider significance.
Demastes, William W. and Michael Vanden Heuvel. “The Hurlyburly Lies of the Causalist Mind: Chaos and the Realism of Rabe and Shepard.” In Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition, pp. 255–76. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1996.
Discusses the realistic use of chaos by Rabe and Sam Shepard in their plays.
Holland, Megan. “Streamers: Millikin Theatre Uses the Vietnam War to Explore the Conflict Within.” Decaturian (26 October 1999).
Offers a positive assessment of Pipe Dreams Theater’s production of Streamers.
Houswitschka, Christoph. “The Christian Perspective: War and Ritual Sacrifices in David Rabe's Sticks and Bones.” In Modern War on Stage and Screen, edited by Wolfgang Görtschacher and Holger Klein, pp. 117–34. Lampeter, Wales: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997.
Identifies the ritual significance of the violence in Sticks and Bones.
Levett, Karl. “Jungles and Buried Treasure.” Drama 154, no. 4 (1984): 46.
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