More than three hours long, it focuses on the intersecting lives of several low to mid-level Hollywood players in the 1980s. Fueled by massive amounts of drugs, they attempt to find some meaning in their isolated, empty lives by engaging in endless discussions laced with misogyny. The central character Eddie's oft-repeated apathetic question "How does it pertain to me?", sums up his spiritual agony as he heads for catharsis.
The play's first staging was produced by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The Broadway production, directed by Mike Nichols, opened on August 7 1984 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where it ran for 343 performances. The stellar cast included William Hurt, Ron Silver, Harvey Keitel, Jerry Stiller, Judith Ivey, Sigourney Weaver, and Cynthia Nixon, who was performing in The Real Thing at the same time. (The timing of her entrance and exit in each play allowed her to run back and forth between the two theatres, located two blocks from each other.) Replacements later in the run included Danny Aiello, Susan Anton, Christine Baranski, and Candice Bergen.
Rabe wrote the screenplay for a 1998 film version directed by Anthony Drazan. He condensed the action into two hours and updated the setting from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. The cast included Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Robin Wright Penn, Garry Shandling, Anna Paquin, and Meg Ryan. Penn's performance won him the Volpi Cup and Drazan was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Penn also was nominated Best Male Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards.