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COMMENTARY : The Cast of ‘Hurlburly’ Misses Its Cue

Times Theater Writer

Whatever happened to “the show must go on”? It didn’t go on last Sunday evening at the Westwood Playhouse. It may on some Monday.

Soon.

The producers of “Hurlyburly"--which runs through Jan. 22--are trying to find a Monday night to make up a lost performance that was canceled for the strangest of reasons: collective grief.

Last Sunday night, with about 300 people milling around the Westwood lobby, waiting for doors to open, general manager (and co-producer) Randy Finch announced that there would be no “Hurlyburly.”

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The time: 7:35 p.m.--five minutes after the curtain was to have gone up. The reason: great sadness among the cast of the David Rabe play over the motorcycle accident of their good friend and colleague Gary Busey.

Finch told the audience was that a close friend of the company had been in an accident and that the actors felt they could not perform. He also offered ticket refunds and/or exchanges. So far, Finch said, about 25% of the audience has asked for its money back.

“Some people were unhappy,” he acknowledged. “Some asked who was in the accident. One man complained he’d driven an hour and a half (to see the show), but most people were very understanding.”

So there were no riots, no. But what had happened to the cast of “Hurlyburly”? Did it come down with a case of mass hysteria? Of life imitating the laissez-faire behavior of those unraveling Hollywood fringies they portray on stage? Is this the new order of theater in the ‘80s? Or, as others might less kindly put it since the cast features such prominent Hollywood names as those of Mare Winningham and Sean Penn, did Hollywood, in a perverse case of poetic justice, happen to “Hurlyburly”?

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“It was an uncanny thing,” said producer Barbara Ligeti. “Unprecedented in my experience. Gary (Busey) happens to be a close friend of a majority of the cast. He’s been around our production. I was at the theater at half-hour (7 p.m.). Everyone was in costume.

“We couldn’t get any news, so I left and went to the hospital. Then I turned around and there was the cast. At the hospital.”

So who made the decision to cancel the show?

“We all got together and talked about it,” Finch said. “It was the consensus that we couldn’t go on. We’re trying to give the audience a quality acting event. That would have been difficult to do under the circumstances.”

“Call it chaos and mobocracy,” Ligeti said, “and yet I can’t completely criticize the company. The three girls were pulverized; the male contingent was steelier; ultimately it seems the decision (to cancel) was everyone’s. (When I found out about it) it was a done situation. Had I been at the theater, had this emotional anarchy erupted in my presence, I would have been very stern. In my 20 years around this business, I can’t think of another instance like it.”

She added that some of the older members of the company wanted to go on with the show, but since the three women in the company were particularly distraught and there is one understudy for the three female roles (in compliance with union rules), performing with understudies was not even an option.

“It was an evening laced with shock,” Ligeti continued. “I felt humiliated, frustrated and plain sad. (Canceling the performance) didn’t compute with me. It was totally bizarre. I don’t agree with it. It happened. We go forward.”


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