Located twenty minutes east of the CBD, Q44 Theatre is known for bringing top – drawer plays to Melbourne. In several short years, the company has established and solidified itself as the go – to destination for high – quality drama.

Since 2014, Q44 Theatre has generated both critical and consumer praise for ‘Dolores’ (by Edward Allen Baker), ‘Orphans’ (by Lyle Kessler), ‘Spike Heels’ (by Theresa Rebeck), ‘Kafka’s Monkey’ (by Franz Kafka and adapted by Colin Teevan), ‘Fool For Love’ (by Sam Shepard), ‘Savage In Limbo’ (by John Patrick Shanley), ’Sister Cities’ (by Colette Freedman), ‘Sex With Strangers’ (by Laura Eason), and ‘Shining City’ (by Conor McPherson).

Never one to back away from a challenge, ‘Hurlyburly’ (by David Rabe) may be their most elaborate, ambitious, controversial and challenging production yet.

A former U.S. Vietnam War army draftee, Rabe is an award – winning playwright, screenwriter and author. His other plays include ‘Sticks and Bones’ (1971), ‘In The Boom Boom Room’ (1973), ‘Streamers’ (1976), ‘The Dog Problem’ (2001), and ‘Visiting Edna’ (2016).

Rabe’s featured screenplay credits are ‘I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can’ (1983), ‘Casualties of War’ (1989), and ‘State of Grace’ (1990). ‘Recital of the Dog’ (1993), ‘A Primitive Heart’ (2005), and ‘Dinosaurs on the Roof’ (2008) are some of Rabe’s published books as well.

In 1984, ‘Hurlyburly’ made its world premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

That June, it briefly ran Off – Broadway at Manhattan’s Promenade Theatre. Two months later, a Broadway production for the Ethel Barrymore Theatre lasted 343 performances. The Broadway cast included acting heavyweights like William Hurt, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Jerry Stiller, Judith Ivey, Sigourney Weaver, and Cynthia Nixon.

Two Australian seasons of note played at the Melbourne Theatre Company in 1986, and Stables Theatre in 2005.

Rabe also wrote the screenplay for a filmed version, released in 1998.  In that instance, the motion picture starred Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Chaz Palminteri, Gary Shandling, Anna Paquin, and Meg Ryan.

Since the birth of the industry, stories about Hollywood have held strong fascination with the general viewing public.  Movies like ‘Adaptation’, ‘A Star Is Born’, ‘Barton Fink’, ‘Gods And Monsters’, ‘Jerry Maguire’, ‘La La Land’, ‘Singin’ In The Rain’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘Star 80’, ‘Swimming With Sharks’, ‘The Artist’, ‘The Bad And The Beautiful’, and ‘The Player’ all to various degrees, unmask it behind the scenes. Each example however, highlights the tremendous sacrifices people make, in attempting to carve a name for themselves in Tinsel town.

Further, books from Peter Biskind’s ‘Easy Riders. Raging Bulls’ to ‘Open Season’ by Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing, detail the massive focal shift from the halcyon seventies, one decade on.  No longer was artistic integrity the highest priority, showcased through films such as ‘The Godfather’, ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ or ‘Ordinary People’. Instead, high – concept thrill rides like ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’ became the new normal.

Depicting a cross – section of talented yet damaged individuals, ‘Hurlyburly’ is a fascinating representation of the business at that turning point. Screen – writers, agents, producers, stars and their hangers – on hovered like pack wolves, waiting for their next big hit. Inspiration landed in many forms, but was mostly driven by drugs, alcohol, and meaningless sex.

Directed with tight panache by Gabriella Rose – Carter (with assistant direction by Sebastian Gunner), ‘Hurlyburly’ is a play which may easily polarise viewers.  From the outset, these characters are neither friendly or likeable.  What draws us to them, is Rabe’s brilliant use of subtext.

Anthony Scundi (as Eddie), William Prescott (as Phil), Will Atkinson (as Mickey), Kostas Ilias (as Artie), are thick as thieves, but with their eyes on the prize, would slay each other at a moment’s notice. They are also masters of and slaves to the women in their lives, Erin Lilia (as Darlene), Nicole Melloy (as Bonnie), and Amelia Bishop (as Donna).

Rabe drops significant clues into his characters’ interlocking actions and idiosyncrasies. Harnessing the power of his words, like the iconic poem by Robert Frost, this is first and foremost a morality tale about the road not taken.

Rose – Carter and Gunner inspire their magnificent seven with this notion, giving us a powerful experience packed with fishbowl claustrophobia and ferocious honesty. There is never a dull moment in the epic three hour running time, thanks especially to the actors playing out the story with hopped – up, manic desperation.
Without giving too much away, three segments are stand outs:

  • Communicating love and hate for each other in equal measure, Scundi and Lilia argue the toss over where to go for dinner. It is soon clear that their intensifying battle means something else entirely.
  • Prescott’s unhinged personality, is temporarily softened when he shows the others his infant child.
  • Bishop’s casual description of the labels adorning her jacket, with the fantasy taking hold, make one wonder how long will it be until she too, is sucked into the vortex.

John Collopy’s lighting design defines the episodic, fade – out / fade – in, structure of the play. His work also provides quiet moments of reflection for the characters. Justin Gardam’s composition and sound design allows the narrative a subtle undertone, calm or clenched where necessary.

Rich costume and set design by Annalisa Lucca and the Q44 Ensemble, give this ‘fly on the wall’ experience a stylised catwalk twist. Clever details like high fashion clothing, shag carpeting and elegant surround drapery, make ‘Hurlyburly’ the perfect balance of Hollywood’s chic excess and Mafioso glamour.

Here, the company’s vision is living proof that working in an intimate environment should never be an argument for limiting creativity. Of the five shows I have reviewed for Q44 Theatre, each time they have dazzled me with their artistic vision.  With ‘Hurlyburly’, the crew has set a new standard yet again. (Set construction was by Will Atkinson, Sebastian Gunner, Madeline Claire French, Annalisa Lucca and John Collopy.)

Overseeing proceedings, stage management from Madeline Claire French on opening night was clear, clean and sharp.

Like the Scottish import, ‘Trainspotting’ (which recently played at 45 Downstairs), here too, there is little here to separate the audience from the unfolding journey.

Q44 Theatre creates a journey which stays with you long after the final bows are taken. This is the Hollywood dream sliced open and laid bare for all to see. With actors and viewers becoming one, this is theatre as it should be for the twenty – first century.