The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

As Hurlyburly opens, the half-dressed Eddie is asleep on the couch, and the television on the coffee table is droning out the morning news. Phil enters and wakes Eddie with the news that he and his wife had a big fight the night before, because he was stoned and she would not let him explain his plan “to save the world.” Phil reports that he “whacked” her and left her for good.

Shortly after Mickey enters, Eddie and Phil snort some cocaine and smoke some marijuana; Phil tells Eddie about a part he might get in a film with a certain director, and Eddie gives him the inside story on the director. Phil then exits with one of the scripts on which Eddie and Mickey are working. Left alone, the roommates begin to discuss Darlene, a “dynamite lady” whom Eddie dated and then introduced to Mickey, who has just had dinner with her “in order to, you know, determine the nature of these vibes.”

Artie shows up with Donna, whom he says he found in his elevator; he has brought her to be used however the roommates wish. Eddie says sarcastically that Mickey would not want to fool around with Donna, since he has the dynamite lady, Darlene. When Artie tells them that he has a meeting with a certain Herb Simon, Eddie tries to give him the lowdown on people such as Simon. After Artie exits, Donna returns from the bathroom; while she tells about her experiences in Artie’s elevator, Mickey tries to caress and undress her. Phil reenters, and Eddie explains to him how Donna was brought as a care package “for people without serious relationships.” Eddie takes Donna away from Mickey and into the bedroom; they are followed by Phil, who professes delight with “the bachelor’s life.”

Scene 2 opens on the evening of the same day. Darlene is seated at the kitchen counter when Eddie enters, and they begin to squabble over his tendency to create confusion with thoughts and words. Entering with groceries, Mickey proceeds to tell them that he was outside listening before he came in and that what he heard, underneath the squabbling, was real passion. Such honesty allows everyone to confess the truth: that Eddie does have feelings for Darlene, that she cares for him, and that Mickey will eventually return to his wife and kids. After Mickey exits, Eddie and Darlene try to express their feelings.

Scene 3 begins in the late afternoon of the next day; Donna is watching television and listening to the record player when Phil comes in. They get into a shouting match; it is...

(The entire section is 1026 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Since Hurlyburly is basically a realistic play, nonrealistic or constructionist dramatic devices are inappropriate. However, Rabe still creates powerful dramatic effects, primarily through rich, evocative images, strong action, and visual tableaux.

From the opening scene, when Phil walks in on Eddie, who is asleep with the television on, to the last scene, when Eddie, left alone onstage, turns on the television and begins his dialogue with Johnny Carson, the television set is ever-present as an object of fascination and contempt. Ironically, whenever Eddie watches television, rather than listening and watching passively, he argues with and harangues it in a grotesque, surreal demonstration of failed communication: The television does not listen to him nor he to it, yet each roars on at the other. Another irony arises from the fact that while television provides careers for the characters, they—especially Eddie—are repulsed by it.

The ingestion of beer, marijuana, cocaine, vodka, and Valium, which recurs with dizzying frequency, constitutes a major motif. More than once, Eddie takes out his box of stash and, like a high priest ceremoniously holding up a holy object, begins the ritual of laying out vials, pills, and powders, sometimes in order to share it with friends, at other times to perform his religious ceremony alone. The ironic fulfillment of the drug motif occurs toward the end of the play in a painful and memorable tableau...

(The entire section is 418 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Kolin, Philip C. David Rabe: A Stage History and a Primary and Secondary Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1988.

Kolin, Philip C. “Staging Hurlyburly: David Rabe’s Parable for the 1980’s.” Theatre Annual 41 (1986): 63-78.

Leiter, Robert. Review in Hudson Review 38 (Summer, 1985): 297-299.

McDonough, Carla J. Staging Masculinity: Male Identity in Contemporary American Drama. Jefferson, Mo.: McFarland, 1996.

Radavich, David. “Collapsing Male Myths: Rabe’s Tragic-comic Hurlyburly.” American Drama (Fall, 1993): 1-16.

Savran, David. “David Rabe.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.

Weales, Gerald. “Theatre Watch.” Georgia Review 39 (Fall, 1985): 620-621.

Zinman, Toby Silverman. David Rabe: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1991.