Scripter Stephen Adly Guirgis’ powerful legiter “In Arabia We’d All Be Kings” takes a jaundiced look at Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 1990s New York City beautification project and its effect on a group of Hell’s Kitchen locals. Helmer David Fofi advances Guirgis’ agenda thanks to a perfectly cast 12-member ensemble embodying the woebegone urbanites whose shaky sense of stability has been totally disrupted.
Joel Daavid’s impressively wrought, grime-imbued West 43rd Street neighborhood bar is shown in a series of 10 scenes spanning three days. Recent Ryker’s parolee Lenny (Jason Warren) returns to his former surroundings only to discover the mayor’s “Disneyfication” of the city has created an aura of hopeless desperation among his old friends and neighbors.
From aging sexpot Mrs. Reyes (Patricia Rae) and her embittered, gun-toting 17-year-old daughter Demaris (Carolina Espiro), Lenny learns that most of his former acquaintances are either dead, in jail or gone, pushed out by gentrification.
What’s left is a band of dead-eyed survivors who don’t possess the wherewithal to do anything but wait for extinction. There’s Lenny’s supposed live-in girlfriend Daisy (Bernadette Speakes); once-promising young actor-turned-crackhead Skank (Steven Schub) and his achingly waifish but equally addicted girlfriend Chickie (Jade Dornfeld); kindly but mentally challenged bartender Charlie (Torrance Jordan); and Sammy (Dan Gilvary), the aged alcoholic purveyor of short bursts of often unintelligible wisdom.
Feeding on this motley group are such sleazy vultures as razor-tongued bar owner Jake (George Russo), real estate entrepreneur Greer (Tim Starks) and Holy Roller (Charlie Romanelli), the always-smiling lethal dispenser of God’s justice.
Ably abetted by the evocative production designs of Daavid (lighting), Gelareh Khalioun (costumes) and Christopher Game (sound), Fofi empathetically drives the action, never allowing Guirgis’ unrelenting sense of tragedy to falter despite the many scene changes.
In one painfully sad but funny street scene, Chickie unsuccessfully tries to teach relentlessly foul-mouthed, viper-faced Demaris how to turn tricks. Despite Chickie’s urging that “you’ve got to be like a party waiting to happen,” Demaris’ militancy only scares the prospective Johns away. Chickie suggests, “You could do something else to get money, like rob.”
“In Arabia We’d All Be Kings” offers no sociological lessons about the failures of society. This synergistic partnering of scripter, helmer and thesps emphatically underscores the tragic truth that the human psyche yearns for stability and will eventually accept any remnant of it that can be found.