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Chicago by John Olson

In Arabia We'd All Be Kings
Steep Theatre Co.
Guest Reviewer Richard Green

In Arabia We'd All Be Kings
Michael Salinas, Mari Stratton, Rinska Prestinary and Peter Esposito
Midnight Cowboy, Barfly and the Chicago exposé Courtroom 302 have finally met their match in this sometimes hilarious, brilliantly agonizing play by Stephen Adly Guirgis. His characters strive for petty dominance, and grovel like whipped dogs, but we in the audience never find out how they fell into these straits in the first place, in New York City of some 15 years ago. Their unanswered questions add a lot of tension to the evening, because we never gain an inch of exculpatory distance from the horrors they must endure. And without answers, and the distance they provide, the thin line of grace (separating us from them) strikes like a whiplash, right across the face.

An excellent ensemble effort, the Steep Theatre production features eleven actors in thirteen roles, including the uproarious Rinska Prestinary as a young girl who can't quite get it right as a newly minted working-girl, and Jonathan Edwards as a young man whose willingness to surrender to any scheme pushes him into worthless antiquity before our very eyes. His final scene with Michael Salinas (as Lenny) is a perfect theatrical moment, with silences that open up the craggy vistas of the merchandised soul.

Caroline Neff is alternately childlike and horrifying as a young crackhead: first funny, then tragic, then off-handedly evil, schooling Ms. Prestinary in the ways of the street. Their scene together, imagining life on a plain old cross-country road trip, arouses extreme pathos. Her meek finagling for snack money from D'Wayne Taylor (as a sort of gay Sidney Greenstreet) is one of the jewels of purest humiliation in the show, followed (and trumped!) by Mr. Taylor's ghastly seduction of Mr. Edwards (as Skank).

Probably as a balm, I best remember the funnier moments, which include DeMaris (Ms. Prestinary) with her mother (Mari Stratton) fighting in the bar where most of the action takes place. But even the younger woman's inherent comic abilities lead us down a K-hole of gloom when she extracts some soul-destroying personal information from the recently imprisoned Lenny (Mr. Salinas) at the point of a gun. Peter Moore finds unexpected humor as Vic, interviewing Lenny for a job handing out credit card applications on the street. His dialog is littered with trite catch phrases and buzz words, delivered with a world-weariness that impresses only the newly released convict.

Sean Bolger may have the hardest job of all, playing the 'nice guy' in the rat's nest, as a bartender who keeps the frictions among patrons down to a dull roar. But even he gets a surprising added dimension after one of the characters dies, and he exacts revenge (in a Darth Vader mask) on the fellow he blames. With his character, Charlie, and the wild young DeMaris, it seems that childlike innocence is the best defense against a world of woe.

Through February 21, 2009, at 1115 West Berwyn, immediately east of the Red Line train station, on Chicago's north side. For information visit www.steeptheatre.com or call (312) 458-0722.

Cast
Lenny: Michael Salinas
Daisy: Lily Mojekwu
Skank: Jonathan Edwards
Sammy: Peter Esposito
Miss Reyes: Mari Stratton
DeMaris: Rinska Prestinary
Jake, Sal: Richard Cotovsky
Vic, Holy Roller: Peter Moore
Charlie: Sean Bolger
Chickie: Caroline Neff
Greer, Carroll: D'Wayne Taylor

Crew
Director: Joanie Schultz
Stage Manager: Ellen Willett
Set Design: Brandon Wardell
Costume Design: Emily McConnell
Lighting Design: Aaron Weissman
Original Music and Sound Design: Tamara Roberts
Fight Choreography: Christopher Walsh
Assistant Director: Michael Wise
Production Manager: Julia Siple
Casting Director: Jonathan Edwards


Photo: Brandon Wardell

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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