The stage is strewn with detritus, traces of lives lived on the margin. There are hypodermic syringes, packets of condoms, torn strips of material and clothing, mess, waste, garbage. This bleak scene is the backdrop to Hustlers, an original play produced by Hoof and Horn which proves to be an entertaining if not entirely convincing piece of theatre.
An entertaining if not entirely convincing piece of theatre
It’s LA in the 80s, a fact rendered obvious by the unironic use of stonewash double denim. We’re given a look into the family of pimp Tony ‘Trouble’ and his two working girls, James and Harlow. The play starts with the two prostitutes getting up and ready for their day, the motions of preparation presented as a stylised dance.
From there we go on to explore the life of the two sex workers, their pimp and then a new addition to the self-styled and ever dysfunctional family ― a small town girl called Clarity. Of all the characters, the most interesting by far is James whose shifting name and identity is backdropped by a deep sense of fatalism. She is played excellently by Megan Ruppel who is a definite standout in the cast.
The rest of the characters are performed ably but less memorably. While there’s a lot of great material in the play and the performances, it isn’t fully realised by the work. Nichita Matei’s Tony is unconvincing as the swaggering pimp; Amelia Holt does a better job as Clarity, but the character lacks depth. Likewise, Lou Lou Curry’s Harlow does tease some depth, but this potential is never fully realised.
They may all be typical of the kind of people who ended up hustling the streets of LA in the 80s, but the characters feel a bit flat. These are chaotic lives, but the play lacks that energy. It’s well thought out and well intentioned but it isn’t dramatic. The addition of AIDS as a plot device at the end is similarly weightless, belying the power and fear that the epidemic truly had in the 80s.
There’s a lot to enjoy about Hustlers. In dealing with a fascinating subject, the play is thought-provoking but in a slightly unsatisfactory way.