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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Adly Guirgis’

It’s hard to believe that it’s 17 years since this had its UK premiere at the Donmar. In this terrific production it feels freshly minted, and I can’t help wondering why its taken so long to be revived. We’ve had three other plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis since, most notably 2015’s The Motherf***er With The Hat. which gave the NT’s marketing department an interesting challenge, so its good to look at the first once again.

Set in a New York prison, we meet Lucius, a serial killer waiting for extradition to Florida, where his killing spree started and where the death penalty exists. He has a benevolent guard Charlie in his solitary 23-hour lock up wing. Much younger Angel is awaiting trial for a shooting. He’s moved to the same wing for his own protection after an assault. Charlie leaves and the far from benevolent Valdez is sent to persecute them. The only other character is Angel’s lawyer Mary Jane who visits intermittently to discuss defence strategy and tactics.

The discussions between Lucius and Angel are the heart of the piece as we debate responsibility & accountability and redemption. We learn about the prisoners’ motivations and personal histories in what becomes a psychological sparring match. How much do the actions of the victims justify the crime? How much does a tragic past excuse a crime? It’s played out on a traverse stage with moving glass walls / doors with blinding lighting and deafening drums between scenes to keep up the tension. It shocks, though there are flashes of humour that relieve the tension. and your brain almost hurts as you decide what you think about these people and their actions. I found it riveting.

Oberon K A Adjepong (a very welcome visitor from the US) as Lucius and Ukweli Roach as Angel are mesmerising to watch, with great physicality, spitting out dialogue at frenetic speed. Dervla Kirwan is excellent as the Irish American lawyer Mary Jane who we learn a surprising amount about. Joplin Sibtain is terrific as their nemesis Valdez, prodding and provoking them for fun. Matthew Douglas’ Charlie is such a contrast, and comes back to surprise us towards the end.

Director Kate Hewitt and designed Magda Willi have done an excellent job creating the tension which the play needs. Yet more thrilling stuff at the Young Vic.

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Snap crackle & pop. Rice crispy theatre (theater)! This US import, with a British creative team and 40% UK casting, oozes NYC from every pore. The expletive count of the naturalistic dialogue is higher than you’ve probably ever heard, but it’s not gratuitous. It remains electrifying and unpredictable throughout.

Jackie is a Hispanic ex-con, small time dealer, ex-addict. We meet his highly-strung girlfriend Veronica, drying-out sponsor Ralph & wife Victoria and cousin Julio as he struggles to stay clean and manage his suspicions and jealousy over Veronica’s faithfulness. The play moves back and forth between three apartments – Jackie & Veronica’s central Manhattan rooming house, Ralph & Victoria’s cool home in gentrified mid-town and Julio’s cosy space in Hispanic Washington Heights. Jackie’s relationships with his girl, his sponsor and his cousin are tested as he navigates an emotional roller-coaster. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is a modern day New York Mamet or Shephard with a very distinctive voice.

Robert Jones’ design sees the apartments glide in from the back, sides and above to a loud soundtrack, with iron fire escapes hanging above, anchoring the play in NYC, making the scene changes watchable in themselves. Director Inhu Rubasingham’s high-energy, fast-moving staging gives the play its own unique rhythm. I was blown away by the five performances. Ricardo Chavira as Jackie is onstage throughout, forever on the go, never still. Flor De Liz Perez as Veronica matches his spikiness, adding another level of emotional energy. Yul Vazquez’ Julio provides some welcome restraint and much gentle humour. It’s hard to believe Alec Newman and Nathalie Armin aren’t also American, both with authentic personalities and accents. Newman’s interaction with Chavira is just as electrifying as Chavira with Perez.

I felt it could have been trimmed a little – there are a few minor longeurs – but it’s a great addition to the NT repertoire as it refreshes under Rufus Norris.

 

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