IN ARABIA WE'D ALL BE KINGS by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Jonah Allison (Column 13). At Alchemy Theatre (133 Tecumseth). Previews March 28, opens March 29 and runs to April 7. $15, stu/srs/underemployed $12, Wednesday pwyc. 416-732-7786. Rating: NNNNN
New York playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis goes for the grit, but he develops it into a pearl of a play.
We've already seen his works Jesus Hopped The A Train and The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, and now Column 13 Actors Company's mounting Guirgis's In Arabia We'd All Be Kings.
Set in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen in the 90s, it looks at the effects of gentrification on a dozen people who live there. Prostitutes, addicts and alcoholics, the characters may be drawn in acid, but they reveal the heart beneath their rough exteriors.
"That's one of the things that drew the company to the play," says managing director and founding member Angela Hanes, who plays the crackhead Chickie. "These people may be disenfranchised, but they have emotions, relationships and challenges that we can all relate to. An actor relishes playing a role where the stakes are as high as they are for these characters."
While the characters' lives are very different from those of the actors, the company's working with director Jonah Allison to ground the figures, fusing together physical and emotional credibility. As Hanes phrases it, "We don't just to pay lip service to what we think their situations would be."
The performer's also aware that Toronto audiences will see parallels between the world of the play and their own city.
"When Rudy Giuliani became mayor of New York, he turned neighbourhoods upscale without worrying about what happened to their residents. Is the revitalization in Parkdale and elsewhere any different? I think local audiences will understand the sense of impending doom in the play, which starts slowly but builds toward the end."
Despite its dark tone, In Arabia We'd All Be Kings has its share of comedy.
"But it's the kind of humour you feel bad laughing at," notes Hanes, who has both acted and directed with the company, which has staged nine shows since it debuted two years ago. "It's uncomfortable laughter, and there's a touch of the heartbreaking about it.
"Those qualities play to the spirit of the community we're watching. Their life is dark, so they laugh as a way of surviving."