By Kevin Zimmerman
Although he spends his days snorting cocaine, smoking marijuana and guzzling alcohol, Hollywood casting director Eddie draws the line when it comes to drinking coffee.
“Caffeine is [expletive deleted] poison,” he tells his roommate Micky, right before inhaling another line of narcotic powder.
Welcome to playwright David Rabe’s Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and his black comedy “Hurlyburly” now at the Chain Theatre in Long Island City through March 1.
Eddie, played by a delightfully manic yet not-over-the-top Kirk Gostkowski, and his three friends, Deven Anderson’s Micky, Brandon Scott Hughes’ Phil and Chris Harcum’s Artie, drink, take drugs, sleep with any available woman and exist in a hazy realm somewhere between reality and illusion.
These four characters are not nice guys.
Eddie lies more often than he tells the truth and even acknowledges this trait has potentially damaging outcomes for everyone, himself included.
“Yeah, I lie to myself,” Eddie says to Artie. “I’m very good at it. And, I’m really gullible.”
Phil struggles with violent outbursts that lead to battering his wife and throwing another woman out of a moving vehicle. Micky, who is playing hooky from his wife and children, manages to weasel in on Eddie’s new girlfriend, then once his conquest is complete, tosses her back to his roommate. And Artie, who is more sad sack than sociopath, nevertheless delivers a very young woman he picked up hitchhiking to Eddie and Micky as a gift. “Do you want her?” he asks the two.
These four men maintain the most feeble grasps on reality — they can’t even be bothered to have real conversations with each other as their speech is peppered with shortcut phrases like “blah, blah, blah,” and “rappa-tat-tat.” Working in the movie industry doesn’t help ground them either.
Eddie’s friends seem content to continue in their current states, but slowly he begins to realize there actually may be more to life than immediate gratifications.
As Eddie, Gostkowski portrays an egotist who suddenly begins to show cracks in his self-delusional armor. Eddie is desperate for any meaning in life — to the point that he constantly races to the dictionary to find the defined meanings of words that crop up in his and his friends’ speech. Gostkowski delivers a realistic performance that captures the essence of Eddie’s personal crisis with all its highs and lows. Eddie is confused, angry, hurt and depressed — sometimes all at once — and Gostkowski makes it all very believable.
Hughes also brings a sense of desperate urgency to lost soul Phil. A former convict, who is attempting to break into the movie business, Phil has no idea what he should be doing. He acts without thinking, like striking his unseen wife and throwing Bonnie, a stripper Eddie procures for him, out of her own car while he is driving. Phil regrets these horrific actions, but continues to commit them.
Actually, the aftermath of the car scene provides a glimpse into Rabe’s dark humor.
Bonnie reappears at Eddie’s house with torn stockings, bloody knees and missing one shoe and proceeds to describe what had just occurred.
“You must of done something,” Eddie says to her.
“I smiled,” she replies.
As Bonnie, Jacklyn Collier is the standout of the trio of women, including Christina Elise Perry as Eddie’s new girlfriend Darlene, and Rachel Cora as the young hitchhiker Donna, who are used and abused by these men. Though to be fair, the other two actresses do a lot with a couple of underwritten parts. Bonnie may be a stripper, and available to provide sexual relief in a pinch, but at least she has no delusions about who she is or what she does.
The guys blame their boorish behavior on desperation, something the four of them believe only they understand or even experience.
Bonnie, however, calls that out for what it is: a self-delusional excuse to avoid dealing with life.
It’s time for Eddie to stop living in La-la land and enter reality in all its ugliness and brutality.
“This town is mean, despite the palm trees,” Bonnie tells Eddie.
If you go
When: Through March 1
Where: The Chain Theatre, 21-28 45th Road, Long Island City
Contact: (646) 580-6003