“But no matter how brutally the game of ‘life’
batters this assortment of characters, they have the will, the
energy, the hope to keep playing the game.” This line, taken
from Theatre Prof. Charles Gordon’s synopsis of “In
Arabia We’d All Be Kings,” perfectly sums up the
essence of the play. A drama about the dark and dirty underbelly of
reality, “In Arabia” is as clever as it is
heartbreaking.

The play takes place in a back-alley bar in Hell’s
Kitchen, New York City, in the late 1990s. The cast of unsightly
characters who frequent the bar includes: Lenny, a man just
recently released from prison, Skank, a punk always looking for a
fix, Skank’s girlfriend Chickie, a crack addicted prostitute,
and Demaris, a woman trying to make money for taking care of her
baby, among others.

Walking into the theater, the audience is immediately
transported into the depths of the city, into a less than friendly
looking bar. The lights are turned down low and the music from the
jukebox in the corner is blaring. The characters are lounging at
either tables or at the bar counter, and an aura of neglect
permeates the whole scene.

Lenny (Kevin Kuczek) is the first man to talk, throwing the
audience into the middle of life in this particular area of
Hell’s Kitchen. We see Lenny get into a fight with his girl,
Daisy (Elizabeth Hoyt), and then we see him pull a knife on Skank
(Matthew Smith), a punk whose hair is gelled into bright red spikes
sticking out at odd angles. This scene, with language as foul and
gritty as the almost opaque mirror — covered in dirt and dust
— behind the bar, and characters easily driven to violence,
expertly sets the mood for the rest of the play.

“In Arabia” is an episodic play, in that it is made
up of different scenes, connected only by the relationships between
the characters in them. The play jumps from being inside the bar to
the street with only the connection that the woman out on the
street is the girlfriend of the man who was just in the bar.
Sometimes, this set-up can make a play seem choppy and hard to
follow, but for this story, which is a dialogue on the lives of the
downtrodden, the technique is well employed.

The real reason for the success of this production however, was
the cast. There was no character — no life — that
wasn’t interesting. The actors made each of their respective
character’s struggles real, drawing the audience in and
making the audience wonder and care about what was going to happen.
Even though the characters were drug addicts, ex-convicts, hookers
and bums — figures normally ignored by society — they
were all portrayed as merely people trying to get by, and trying to
make sense of life.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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