Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Hurlyburly and Those the River Keeps

Two Plays

by David Rabe

Fresh, glittering, entertaining, full of wit and blisteringly funny. A stunning comic drama of contemporary life in the Hollywood hills and beyond.” –Richard David Story, USA Today

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 384
  • Publication Date August 16, 1995
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3351-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

Nominated for the Tony Award when it was first produced in 1984, Hurlyburly was immediately hailed as a classic American drama. This edition is the definitive version of the prize-winning author’s most celebrated work, reflecting his continued exploration of the play through several productions—in particular the one he directed in 1988 at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles—and his latest thoughts regarding the text.

Now prize-winning playwright David Rabe has matched and deepened it with Those the River Keeps, an intense psychological exploration of Hurlyburly”s most dangerous and enigmatic character. This edition contains the definitive versions of these works, a foreword in which Rabe examines the interwoven relationship of the plays, and an afterword in which he discusses the process of their construction.


“Powerfully written . . . dazzling.” –Robert Brustein, The New Republic

“Offers some of Rabe’s most inventive writing.” –Frank Rich, The New York Times

“Compelling . . . Those the River Keeps” strength is its dialogue, which ranges from staccato nonsense to amorphous bursts of palooka philosophy and raw anguish’masterfully rendered.” –Carolyn Clay, The Boston Phoenix

Fresh, glittering, entertaining, full of wit and blisteringly funny. A stunning comic drama of contemporary life in the Hollywood hills and beyond.” –Richard David Story, USA Today




PHIL and SUSIE’s rented house in the Hollywood hills. The front door is located on the back wall stage right. The door opens onto a one-step ramp that runs toward stage left. A picture window is the dominant shape in this back wall. The bedroom door, which is off to the left, has a full-length mirror on it facing into the living room. A built-in shelf unit runs along the back wall below the window. The shelf is wide enough and sturdy enough to be sat on, or for someone to lie down on it. The platform runs downstage along the left side and expands to hold a small kitchen far stage left: refrigerator, sink, small table, some built-in shelves, and a large window. In the wall between the bedroom and the kitchen, there is a small closet, its door next to the bedroom door. When it is open, it shows hooks and hangers with SUSIE’s clothing. A box of Pampers and a weird silver ice bucket stand atop the refrigerator.

The living room is on a lower level, though the ramp is only one step, and in it are a couch and coffee table and a swivel chair located near the step up into the kitchen. Above the swivel chair is a small table with a lamp, a photo of a young woman, a telephone, and an answering machine. Against the downstage right wall is a wooden cabinet. Not in any way immediately apparent is the fact that it is a liquor cabinet. It could be anything. Above it, a print of birds hangs. On the cabinet stands a green statue of a swan. Just upstage of the cabinet, on a jut facing downstage, is another door, which opens into a small closet. On the downstage right is a closet door.

Music, and as the lights come up on the late afternoon, SUSIE is discovered with a thermometer in her mouth. SUSIE is in her early thirties and attractive, sexy. She wears a silky suede dress, short and sleek, sweetheart neckline, low V back, stockings. No shoes. On her lap is a teddy bear, who is wearing Pampers. She is just finishing putting the Pampers on the bear as we come upon her; and as the music plays, she rocks with the bear, sort of dancing. Taking the thermometer out of her mouth, she looks at it unhappily, shakes it, and puts it back into her mouth. As she is taking the bear back up, she is startled by a rattle at the door. As the door opens and the music ends, she struggles to hide the bear, holding him behind her back. PHIL enters. He’s ruggedly good-looking, in his late forties. He’s dressed in dark slacks, a blue T-shirt and matching linen shirt. He carries a brown leather jacket and three paperback books.

PHIL: Hey, Susie.

SUSIE: Hi. Hi.

PHIL: Hi. How you doin”?

SUSIE: I’m okay.(She runs to him.)

PHIL: Great.(She kisses him long and hard. And as his hands move around her, pulling her in, trying to extend the kiss, she fears he will touch the bear. She pulls back, and he looks at her as she backs away.)

PHIL: Whatsamatter?

SUSIE: Nothin”. Whata you mean? I’m great.(She moves to the couch, grabbing her jacket lying there, using it to conceal the bear.)

PHIL: Good. You goin” somewhere?

SUSIE: Dinner, okay?

PHIL: Sure. Where you goin”?

SUSIE: With Janice. She’s got somethin” to talk to me about.

PHIL: What?

SUSIE: I don’t know. She didn’t say.(She settles on the couch and taking up her purse starts tending to her lipstick. The bear, covered by the coat, is in the corner of the couch.)

PHIL: Some guy, right? This guy or that guy. Another one of those surfer assholes, right?

SUSIE: Maybe.

PHIL: What does she see in those guys?

SUSIE: I don’t know. How was your day?

PHIL: It was terrific. I’m very close, I think. I gave a very good audition, which, I would say, I don’t think this guy was expecting.(As he is about to join her on the couch, she jumps up.)

SUSIE: You want a beer?

PHIL: Yeah, great. (SUSIE moves toward the kitchen, PHIL following along. She gets him a beer and sets it on the kitchen table, where he settles.) So he was caught off guard, and also, I think in general he liked me. He talked to me a very long time. He didn’t have to do that–because he’s a big deal, this guy, in television, and he was askin” me all these questions, you know, personal questions which I took it to be his desire to somehow determine if I had some personal connection to the character, you know, from my personality. My background, my life.

SUSIE: Great. (She heads back toward the bear and jacket on the couch.)

PHIL: He even mentioned these books, which I got the feeling he felt I should read them. Anyway, it was encouraging. I feel certain I’m going to get a call back.

SUSIE: Great.

PHIL: What is the matter with you?

SUSIE: Nothing. What do you mean? I’m just in a hurry.(She rushes to the fridge.)

PHIL: You got this manner. You know, you got this manner.

SUSIE (taking a plate of cold cuts out of the fridge): I don’t know what you’re talking about, I swear I don’t. Here’s a little dinner. Sorry it’s not more.

PHIL: You’re givin” me the goddamn heebie-jeebies with this manner–could you stop it?

SUSIE (as she moves for the bear on the couch and picks it up, concealing it): I don’t know what you’re talkin” about.

PHIL: I don’t either, but you got this tone, you got this–

SUSIE: Some guy was by before. He wanted to see you.

PHIL: What guy?

SUSIE: You weren’t here. I told him you’d be back.(She starts for the bedroom.)

PHIL: Wait a minute, I wanna know about this. (He rises and blocks her before she can get into the bedroom.) What guy? What’d he look like?

SUSIE: I don’t know.

PHIL: How can you not know what he looked like?

SUSIE: He was just this guy.(She doesn’t know where to go with the bear now, where to hide him. She heads for the closet.)

PHIL: You saw him, he was here. What, did fuckin” amnesia set in?


PHIL: So, what’d he look like?

SUSIE: He was just this guy.

PHILL: So did he have clothes on?(He’s following her to the closet.)

SUSIE: Of course he had clothes on. Are you nuts?

PHIL: So what color were they?

SUSIE: He looked like you.

PHIL: He don’t look like me. I’m me. He don’t look like me. How could he look like me?

SUSIE: I mean, your brother.

PHIL: You mean, you think my brother came by.

SUSIE: I don’t mean your real brother.

PHIL: This is hostile, Susie. You are really pissed at me. You are fucking crazy how you are pissed at me.(By now she has managed to stuff the bear into an over-sized purse and also to put on her coat.)

SUSIE: I gotta go.(She walks to the couch to grab the car keys off the coffee table.)

PHIL: No you don’t. Straightening this out is what you gotta do.

SUSIE: Anyway, you’re the one who’s hostile, givin” me this goddamn third degree about this guy.

PHIL: What third degree?

SUSIE: You’re drivin” me crazy, about this guy, Phil.

PHIL (pursuing her): But you saw him. He come to the door. You talked to him. But when I wanna know one simple thing, like what did he look like, you start acting totally imposed upon. Help me out here.

SUSIE: He knew you.

PHIL: I know a lotta people.

SUSIE: He was from your past.(As she opens the door to go, he stops her, grabbing the door.)

PHIL: Did he say that?

SUSIE: Yeah.

PHIL: What’d he say?

SUSIE: He didn’t say it. It wasn’t that he said it.

PHIL: You just said he said it. Did he or didn’t he?

SUSIE: He communicated it.

PHIL: Which I wouldn’t mind a little of in this conversation here, okay? I don’t know what you’re talking about!

SUSIE: His manner. It was in his manner. It was in his manner, he was obviously from your past.

PHIL (crosses to the picture window, then parts the blinds with his fingers so he can peek out): What about it?

SUSIE: Your manner, Phil. You have a manner. Nobody else around here has this same manner. This is California. People are not like you here, normally. This guy was like that. So you get it now?

PHIL: Yeah.(He’s still looking out the window.)

SUSIE: You know who he was?

PHIL: No. Did he say anything whatsoever, it might be taken as a hint of what he wanted?

SUSIE: No. Did you get to the bank? I need some cash.

PHIL: I didn’t have time. You shoulda gone.

SUSIE: How’m I gonna go, you had the car.

PHIL: What about your credit cards? We went through all the aggravation to get them, where are they? Use them. (He grabs the purse and starts looking for the credit cards.) Why don’t you use them?! I mean, we–(He pulls the bear from the bag and stands there, gaping at it.) Ohhhhhhh! Susie, ohhhhh, look at this. Don’t go out, okay. Ohhhh, you’re startin” to do this diaper stuff with the bear again. I didn’t realize you were so upset. Look how upset you are. This is horrible. This is terrible, Susie.

SUSIE (embarrassed, she walks away, flopping onto the couch): I did it when I was little and I do it now.

PHIL (moving to her): I mean, look at this pathetic little guy, though. This is heartbreaking, Susie.

SUSIE: Look, Phil, havin” a kid is a very large responsibility, and if you’re not ready for it, nobody can make you ready for it, so let’s just drop it, okay.

PHIL (as he joins her on the couch): All I was sayin” last night was maybe I didn’t want a kid right now–right this second. That’s what I was sayin”.

SUSIE: But to wake me up in the middle of the night like that.

PHIL: I was worried.

SUSIE: But to just wake me up like that and I’m half asleep and I’m so vulnerable. I don’t know if I’m awake or not and you just say you don’t want to have a baby, it just goes into my heart like a knife.(She takes the bear back.)

PHIL: I was feelin” funny, you know, itchy, that’s why I did it.

SUSIE: Why did you do it?

PHIL: I wanted you to know.

SUSIE: I mean, why did you really wake me up and say it like that?

PHIL: I wanted you to know.

SUSIE: You don’t even know why, you just did it.

PHIL: I wanted you to know. I can’t sleep. I’m up half the night floppin” around in the bed like a goddamn fish!

SUSIE: What I think maybe is you’re try in” to tell me the bottom line is that you really don’t wanna have a kid ever–and this is all some kind of code–that you are like totally opposed, and that is what you’re really sayin”. Really.

PHIL (as he leans in to kiss her, to apologize): No, no.

SUSIE: Janice says I should divorce you.

PHIL: What? She says what?

SUSIE: I told her. She was really pissed off, boy, she–

PHIL: What’s she gotta be mad about? What business is it of hers? (Leaping up, he heads to the kitchen and grabs a beer.) Fuck her.

SUSIE: She’s my friend. She loves me. She’s just tryin” to look out for my well-being. There’s nothin” wrong with that.

PHIL: Fuck her. The hell with her. She hates me.(He crosses to the picture window to nervously peek out.)

SUSIE: She don’t mean it.

PHIL: She shouldn’t say it.

SUSIE: Oh, it doesn’t matter anyway. Because, you know, it’s over for me this month anyway.

PHIL: What’s over?

SUSIE: I mean, I ovulated, Phil, that’s what I think. I mean, today is early but–

PHIL: When? You did?

SUSIE: So you don’t have to worry about it. I mean, we have a whole month now to figure this mess out, aren’t we lucky.(He moves back to her now, wants to keep her on the couch, but she gets to her feet at the edge of the couch.)

PHIL: Come home early then. Don’t go out.

SUSIE: I gotta. She’s waitin”.

PHIL: Stay home. (He’s kissing her neck, her cheek.) Don’t go see that damn Janice, Susie.(His hand is on her breast.)

SUSIE: I’m gonna be late the way it is.

PHIL: You gonna take the car?

SUSIE: Of course I’m gonna take the car. I told you.

PHIL: What am I gonna do?

SUSIE: What were you gonna do? Were you gonna go out?

PHIL: I don’t know. I just got home.

SUSIE (as he pulls her back toward the couch, and they sprawl over the arm, PHIL falhng first, she on top of him): So last night, you were just restless, you couldn’t sleep, and that’s all you’re saying. That’s all.

PHIL: Right.(Little kiss. The phone rings.)

SUSIE: You weren’t saying we can’t have a baby?

PHIL: No, no.(Big kiss. Then the phone rings again, and the machine picks up.)

JANICE’s Voice: Susie! Hi! Where are you? It’s me. I got here a little early, but you should be here by now. Susie? (SUSIE pulls back from PHIL.)

JANICE’s Voice: Are you there, hon”? We really have to talk. I mean, I think what you said is really something we have to take seriously. I mean, I don’t think–I just don’t think–(SUSIE leaps to her feet. By now PHIL’s zipper is undone.)

JANICE’s Voice: I mean, I just can’t stop thinking about your situation.

SUSIE: Oh, God, she’s gonna kill me.

PHIL: Who cares? C’mon!

SUSIE: I gotta! I gotta.(She bends, gives him a quick kiss, and runs out the door.)

PHIL: Come home early! Okay?(He is sprawled there. JANICE’s voice continues, and he turns, glares at the source of her voice, the machine.)

JANICE’s Voice: I got here a little early. I’m really eager to talk to you. I guess you’re on your way. I hope so. If you’re not, and you get this, I’m at–

PHIL (storming over to the machine): Janice, whata you gotta BUST MY BALLS! (He grabs the phone up.) I’m BEGGIN” YOU! GET OUTA MY LIFE, YOU BITCH! (Slamming the phone down, he whirls and sees the teddy bear on the couch.) And you ” You silly ” motherfucker ” ! (He picks the bear up and puts him in the swivel chair and covers him with the blanket.) Go to sleep.(As he presses down on the blanket, the music starts. It is weird, yet lush, spooky but not without allure. He stands for a second, worried, then looks to the window. Then he goes to the window and peers out, turning and facing downstage as the lights go out.)


Preface copyright ” 1995 by David Rabe. Those the River Keeps copyright ” 1995 by Ralako Corporation. Hurlyburly copyright ” 1985, 1987, 1989 by Ralako Corporation. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved.