In Stephen Adly Guirgis’s In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, directed by David Fofi for the Elephant Theatre Company, Cheers meets Charles Bukowski and we mine the seam of the seismic shift of the Guilianization of Times Square.
Guirgis’s punch-in-the-stomach script limns the hellish lives of the denizens of a Hell’s Kitchen bar who not only have to tread water but also must face the tsunami of gentrification that swells just beyond the Hudson.
The action revolves around a bar that so brims with veracity that at break you want to veer stage left instead of stage right for that Sam Adams at break.
On second thought, you wouldn’t. You’d have to wait forever for that drink – the new owner wants a more upscale crowd – and then deal with Lenny (Jason Warren), erstwhile jailbird, who browbeats Skank (Steven Schub), speed freak, boyfriend of Chickie (Jade Dornfeld) for his taste in music, his Mick Jagger impersonation, his very existence.
Then Lenny gets knocked down the food chain of vulnerability when Demaris (Carolina Espiro), daughter of Lenny’s woman, Daisy (Bernadette Speakes), goofs him into revealing his victim status of a certain behind the bars sex act. Demaris in turn decides she’s had enough of her mother’s sass and pulls out a gun and whacks Daisy to the ground.
But it’s not Lenny’s story, it’s not any one character’s story, it’s the travails of a troupe of misfits that from the outside you would dismiss with a nose-cringe as you drink your Americano, no cream, but for whom, from the inside, from our view, you cannot help but empathize.
That’s Guirgis’s achievement: he’s set up these characters with their own tragic trajectories and catapults them against a backdrop of socioeconomic vectors; as if they could be swept under the carpet of time. Exquisitely wrought in their own selves, they also constitute part of a larger fabric.
Fofi’s takes this spirited and exceptionally talented ensemble and plant them on their bar stools, on their bus stop benches. Then he catapults them into a world that evolves as they hustle for the mother of all coffee beverages, for money to gratify their urges, for money to regain their self respect, for the money to find love and recover love.
The cast sparkles in this dark story. Dornfeld makes Chickie world weary-witty (“Hey baby, wanna party?”) when she tries without success to teach Demaris how to hustle and, a few moments later, morphs to the resigned and tragic when she admits that – duh! – she’s got a drug problem. Espiro makes Demaris a no-nuanced De Niro Taxi Driver, a powerful survivor prone to overkill.
Sammy (Dan Gilvary), the Norm of the Leonard Cohen crowd, sums up, in the subjunctive, the production’s thrust, when he utters the words of the title, as if the only solution was to be anywhere but here.
The play runs until March 17. Tickets are $20. The Theatre is located at 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, in Hollywood. For more information call (323) 960-4410 or visit www.elephantstageworks.com.