The story deals with Eddie and Mickey, casting directors who live in the same house and compete with each other for women, and their friend Phil, a high-voltage, struggling actor who's just screwed up his marriage. They argue incessantly. They go on long, coke-fueled rants that are either funny or grating, depending on who delivers them, and sometimes they scream all at once so that sections of the play sound like movements of discordant jazz, noisy and confusing but carefully shaped. These rants -- this confusion -- is the hook for the play's title. Tony Abou-Ganim rants beautifully as Phil, blowing in and out of the house like a hurricane of manic energy; in one scene he nearly hits Eddie because he's so frustrated with his marriage and because he believes, somehow, that Eddie doesn't respect him. When he calms down, we realize he barely knew he was shouting. "Sometimes I'm out in the rain," he says, "and I don't know it's rainin'."

But no play can sustain this kind of energy for 2 1/2 hours. The other main characters, Eddie and Mickey, are not just unlikable but woodenly played; on opening night James Cunningham, as Eddie, kept stumbling over his lines, as if maybe that pot they were smoking was real. Louis Parnell and Chloe Taylor are both engaged and sharp as a would-be Hollywood deal-maker and the hitchhiking blonde he brings to the house for no reason besides sex ("This is a perfectly viable piece of ass I brought you here," says Parnell's character, Artie, with excellent ugly crassness) -- and Taylor helps close the play in a nice calm scene with Eddie -- but good patches can't focus a script, especially when it seems as bloated and satisfied with its own unruliness as Hurlyburly. Somebody needed to edit Rabe. His mess of story lines and almost-realized themes may be part of the point of his play, but wearing out the audience is not the same as throwing satirical light on a weary and self-baffled culture.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Gaelic Fantasia
Balor. By Macnas. Directed and choreographed by Rod Goodall. Music composed by John Dunne. At Theater Artaud, 450 Florida (at 17th St), Oct. 29-Nov. 2. Call 621-7797.

In 1988, at Dublin's Millennium Celebration, a 60-foot Gulliver washed up on the beach and was borne through the streets in an elaborate five-day parade by a hitherto little-known theater troupe from Galway, Ireland. Since then, Macnas, which means "joyful, exuberant abandon" in Gaelic, has built an international career with its wordless high-octane spectacles celebrating ancient epic themes. Balor, the final installation of a mythic trilogy, enacts a 60-minute fairy tale about Balor of the Evil Eye, a Cyclopean tyrant who imprisons his only daughter to prevent the prophetic fulfillment that his grandson will someday kill him.

Director/choreographer Rod Goodall displays a keen knack for compressing long narratives into vivid symbolic acts. For example, when Balor, a Darth Vader-esque villain, discovers that his wife is pregnant, his clutch of snarling bare-breasted crones descend on her and induce magical labor. The child turns luminous in the womb and the baby is born a spotlight shining into the audience; it then transforms into a puppet-child that the crones imprison in a tower, nurse briefly, and raise from the cradle into a fully grown woman. All this takes no more than a couple of minutes of deftly focused light, smoke, gesture, and sound.

The plot continues, careening forward at an MTV clip. The daughter escapes, falls in love, and has sex with a man from the Tuatha De Danaan, a tribe laboring under Balor's cruel yoke. She then returns to her tower, where she gestates -- upchucking some neon orange substance (my favorite moment of the show) -- and gives birth. Balor discovers the baby, and throws it into the ocean, a billowing blue cloth that fills the stage like a punctured blimp.

Unfortunately, such moments of emotional focus are few and far between. With ingenious agitprop, high-tech bells and whistles, and a concentrated physical vocabulary, the group achieves the glossy grandeur of stop-action cinema but sacrifices much of the intimacy of live theater. From Balor's parachute-sized black cape to the extravagant neo-gothic set fitted with trapdoors, smoke-spewing pipes, and explosives, the high production values are impressive, but they consistently distract us from the show's transcendent potential.

It's too difficult to descry the meaning of the story, which finally eluded this eager viewer. Who cares about a guy with an evil eye, a band of frolicking peasants, and a fish-boy armed with the destiny to save a nation from tyranny? Does it have any relationship to Irish struggles today? If not, is there a reason that this myth might resonate for any modern audience?

The beauty of groups like Macnas, whose work grows from a tradition of non-narrative street spectacles, is that they think huge. When they create work in a traditional theater, they take full advantage of the magical tools of light, sound, and set. Unfortunately, they also sometimes neglect the theater's inherent role as a frame for emotional and intellectual exchange. Director Goodall has mastered visual imagery and movement storytelling on a grand scale, now all he needs to do is discover those stories urgent enough to bring soul to his vision.

-- Carol Lloyd

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