PLAYBILL PICKS: The Five Greatest Plays About Hollywood

By Robert Simonson
10 May 2013

William Hurt and Cynthia Nixon in Hurlyburly.
Photo by Martha Swope

HURLYBURLY: David Rabe's 1984 masterpiece is the one play on this list that aims its microscope not at Hollywood's winners but its losers. It's characters, who inhabit grungy digs in the Hollywood Hills, are low-level actors and writers on the fringes of the business. They half-heartedly pursue their careers, but spend more energy on drinking, drugging and wanton misogynous behavior aimed at the various women they know. Aware that their careers, lives and characters are slowly rotting away, they seem powerful or unwilling to halt the creeping entropy. They babble on about big ideas, all the while leading smaller and smaller lives.

"The characters in this play take a lot of drugs, but what they're really addicted to is the movie business," said playwright Jonathan Tolins, author of the current play Buyer and Cellar, "the money, the excitement, and the promise that they can make something worthwhile in a system that makes it almost impossible. Their behavior may be reprehensible at times, but you always feel the yearning underneath."