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'Hurlyburly' a Chilling Revival

July 15, 1994|PHILIP BRANDES

In revisiting the self-indulgence of the '80s, the Onstage Company's dead-on revival of David Rabe's "Hurlyburly" proves too close for comfort.

There's enough resonance in this stark, biting and ultimately chilling portrait of upscale hedonism--bereft of human values--that it's impossible to appreciate its craftsmanship with tranquil detachment. Of course, that's director Bruce Blair's point, and his seamless cast ensures audiences are thoroughly unsettled despite their laughter.

From the opening--a searing, misogynistic perversion of "buddy" film dialogue between hung-over Eddie (James Shanta) and edgy, divorce-bound Phil (James Nardini)--the inhabitants of Rabe's Hollywood establish their turf as a "spinoff of what was once prime-time life."

This bleak terrain is both playground and prison for Phil, Eddie, Eddie's glib roommate Mickey (Michael Hartson) and the assorted trash that parade through Nelson Coates' ironically pristine white condo set at the Ventura Court Theatre.

In Rabe's Hollywood, power and manipulation make up the only ethics of conduct. It's a world view that recalls David Mamet's obsession with domination, although Rabe permits his characters more self-aware eloquence. Not that it does them any good--"I feel like I've pushed thought to the point where it's just noise," moans Phil.

While they all excel in their ability to reinvent reality, Eddie earns the grandmaster title with his response to a stripper's (Cynthia Ettinger) complaint that Phil threw her out of a moving car: "So what--he slowed down, didn't he?"

The most unnerving scene is when we glimpse Eddie out of his usual drug-induced haze, aping social respectability. He sounds sincere mouthing the cliches of meaningful relationship to his photographer girlfriend (Lynn Clark)--until suspicion and cunning ooze to the surface.

The performers never lose their focus during the marathon evening, but Rabe's circuitous path through thematically redundant territory becomes tedious at times. The characters keep their energy aloft by consuming vast quantities of simulated cocaine--we can only hope the cast's nostrils survive the run.

* "Hurlyburly," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Aug. 7. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 3 hours, 25 minutes.

A Tart-Tongued 'Mona Rogers'

Chain-smoking, booze-toting tawdry ex-burlesque queen Mona Rogers calls herself "the most photogenic piece of hell that ever barked back at shop windows because they dared reflect her."

That's an accurate assessment as Roxanne Rogers brings convincing intensity to Mona's peculiar brand of self-awareness and social commentary in an acid-tongued solo performance piece, "Mona Rogers in Person," at Highways.

In this anthology of brief, scathing monologues by the late Philip- Dimitri Galas, Mona wages an unbroken assault on convention and complacency, lashing out at the audience, her minimal furniture and even her doll companion, Little Fatty.

It takes a lot of control to be this out of control, and Rogers hits all the right notes in Galas' homage to sour grapes on a cosmic scale.

Mona's ramblings careen from inflated self-aggrandizement to suicidal self-loathing, but sustain throughout the kind of violent eloquence reminiscent of Charles Bukowski on a lucid day.

It's a cheat, of course--the gutter is rarely the aqueduct of insight Bukowski or Galas celebrate. Mona implicitly acknowledges this with a sly wink to the audience, asking if we want to try her glamorous existence--she gets plenty of laughs but no takers.

For all its hot-blooded imagery, the rhetoric of "Mona Rogers in Person" moves the viewer mainly to smirks and snickers--not much of a legacy once Rogers' high-energy delivery has concluded.

* "Mona Rogers in Person," Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Ends July 30. $10. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour.

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