The Irish premiere of “In Arabia We’d All Be Kings” serves as a skilful tribute to Pulitzer-winner Stephen Adly Guirgis’ fascinated portrayal of disaffection in New York. The play records the woes and consolations of a number of variously troubled denizens and drifters, who pass through “The Bar” over a period of three days. Over the course of the show, the audience receives a kind of close-up panorama of the city as a whole, elaborated in the predicaments of some of its most colourful (and socially neglected) residents.
Guirgis’ script is satisfying mainly in its evocation of the city’s crack-ridden, fiercely vernacular street life. The emphasis is on revelatory atmosphere, rather than character progression or plot per se. The dialogue sprawls distractedly for minutes at a time, then clinches to an emblematic close. Archetypes proliferate: Lenny the loudmouth ex-convict, who lives with his Mom and never follows through on his promises; Sammy the ageing bar-fly, whose muddled insights are appreciated by few, though his rambling conversation is tolerated by all; Skank, the endearing unreliable, whose circumstances seem both comically desperate and tragically deprived; Daisy, Chickie, Demaris, Miss Reyes, all delicate but hard-hitting females, whose lives seem to be defined by private violence and lonely choices. The list goes on.
If the ensemble can feel simplistically sketched, or the characters sometimes so familiar from popular culture as to appear affected, it’s because Guirgis believes in the theatricality of New York. For all the moral and social grit of its setting, his script is enchanted by a lyricism, an urban mythology, that may or may not exist. The damage and squalor of the city, this line of vision tries to show, is part of its artistic appeal – a viewpoint that can be compelling, but has its obvious problems. The most superficial and the more moving moments in the play’s rendition of the city’s bristling sub-life both stem from this tendency in Guirgis’ writing.
Whatever about the script itself, however, this production is consistently impressive, confirming the dramatic intelligence, freshness and professionalism which Some Yanks, as a relatively young theatre company, is capable of bringing to the Irish scene (see an earlier production from SY reviewed here). Occasional slips in accent aside, the actors effect a feisty balance between humour and heartbreak, suggestive tics and exposed emotions, with apparent ease. Indeed it’s a pleasure to see the many different strengths of this largely up-and-coming cast showcased so well. Particularly notable is Kyle Hixon, who somehow manages to make Skank’s shuffling dishevelment magnetic.
In addition to strong performances and well-paced action, the staging is assured, with the music between scene breaks (a mix of iconic rap beats and crooning nostalgia-pieces) providing an appropriate soundtrack to the seedy, seductive atmosphere of the bar and streets. The set, also, is meticulously arranged and well managed throughout. This is an enjoyable production from a director, cast, and company we’ll hopefully be hearing more of in the future.
In Arabia We’d All Be Kings runs from Monday 29th June – Saturday 11th July.