Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A marvelous cast in Schmeater’s "In Arabia"

Jacquelyn Miedema and Ayo Tushinde in In Arabia We'd All Be Kings (D Hastings)
In Arabia We’d All Be Kings
Theater Schmeater
Through February 13, 2016

Theater Schmeater is performing an early Stephen Adly Guirgis play, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings. Guirgis is now an exciting and accomplished playwright and we have two ongoing productions in Seattle to choose from (The Motherfucker with the Hat is at Washington Ensemble Theatre).

This play is more “episodic” and jerky, with scenes that tell a story when strung together, but with a lot of holes and plotlines left out. Still it has compelling characters, some really funny moments, even within a rather gritty, down-and-out subject area. Several characters swirl around a run-down bar (circa 1990s) that is gentrifying and displacing its old clientele for more profit and an upscale crowd. Guirgis seems to want to ask, “What happens to those people who used to populate the lower-class bar?”

Director Julia Griffin has collected a group of talented actor to create this gritty atmosphere and even tiny roles are a joy to watch. Drew Hobson is probably what might be called the lead, Lenny, a big, threatening, recently-paroled low-life who wants life to be the same as he left it six years earlier. That includes his girlfriend, Daisy (Elena Flory-Barnes), who doesn’t want to tell him she’s more with bar owner Jake (Brandon Felker) than with Lenny. Hobson gives the best performance I’ve seen from him, and embodies the character fully.

A great scene is one with another old friend of Lenny’s, Ms. Reyes (Yolanda Suarez) and her angry and thuggish daughter DeMaris (Ayo Tushinde). Mom seems willing to become the next girlfriend, while DeMaris initially looks like a typical teen until she explodes into an unrecognizable terror. But then, she’s “just foolin’.” This is great writing, weaving humor and danger together. But the actors make the most of it, too.

Then there is the drug addicted Skank (Nik Doner) and Chickie (Jacqueline Miedema), and a hapless bartender Charlie (Samuel Hagen), who wants to protect Chickie and can’t even tell her he really loves her.  Doner portrays a delicate addict who is almost too afraid to be able to survive. Miedema is a cross between naïve and old-soul and has a great scene with Tushinde “teaching” her to be a hooker that is another marvel of tragicomedy. Hagen does a nice job of being a nice guy, though it’s not a stretch for him.

Other characters include the resident drunk Sammy (a shatteringly tragic Michael Ramquist), a “flamboyant” (word used advisedly) real estate developer Greer (Draeko Damen) and various inhabitants of the streets (played by Andrew Shanks).

The set is not as successful as it might be, with projections that don’t work that well to change the scenery, though the attempt is clear. But it doesn’t impede the rhythm of the production.

Go to see these keen characterizations, and perhaps to add to your collection of Guirgis plays you have seen. Having the opportunity to see the breadth of a playwright’s work is a great way to learn about his/her creative process over time.

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