In Arabia We'd All Be Kings
A Play by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Graphic Design by Don Hammond, Savitski Design

October 7 & 14 at 7:30 PM
October 8, 9, 15, & 16 at 7:30 PM
October 10 & 17 at 2 PM
Trueblood Theatre

newsletter | press release| program notes

program | photographs

From our Newsletter
Envision Times Square today. Bright lights, Broadway shows, MTV, tourists everywhere it is now a symbol of American Capitalism and one of the entertainment meccas of the world. In many respects, it's hard to believe that only a decade ago, Times Square encompassed some of the most crime-ridden blocks in the entire country.

In a city of re-invention, Times Square is the queen of the face-lift. Christened Times Square in 1904 as a publicity stunt to commemorate a new building for The New York Times, the street was originally labeled Longacre Square and was the location of homes for many of the city's immigrants. The first theaters were built by Oscar Hammerstein (grandfather of the Broadway lyricist) in 1895. As New York pushed its industrialization downtown, people and their leisure shifted further and further uptown. But when the families left vice moved in. The multitude of family brownstones erected by optimistic developers were transformed into saloons and brothels. Times Square, with its burlesque halls, vaudeville stages and dime houses, began to acquire a reputation for licentiousness. By the early 1970s, Times Square had become a concentration of live sex shops and porn stores; it had the highest crime rate in New York City. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is credited with finally turning the tide and ridding the Square of sex and crime in the mid-1990s.

It is in the seedy, end-of-the-line Times Square of the early 1990's that Stephen Adly Guirgis sets his play, "In Arabia We'd All Be Kings." Set in a bar that is going through a transition - it is closing due to Giuliani's mandates to clean up Times Square - the play is really about a group of dysfunctional people whose entire lives revolve around the bar. The people we meet are representative of the types of people who lived in the area known as Hell's Kitchen. These people have nothing else to do but sit in bars and watch people on the street. Without jobs, they must live by their wits, often perpetrating violence or receiving it. As dangerous as it seems, they turn to each other for comfort because others are suffering the same fates. Many would view the characters in the play with disbelief, but Director John Neville-Andrews is quick to assure that these people are in fact real. Unaware that their last piece of home is about to be pulled out from under them, the bar patrons struggle on. Their sense of humor, their misguided hopes and dreams, and their lack of self-pity are badges that are tattooed on their souls. They will all, before the end, take the chance to face their complicated truths head on.

Stephen Adly Guirgis is an actor turned playwright, and is considered to be one of the most exciting new playwrights of his generation. He was working with the LAByrinth Theatre in New York City when the actors needed something to put on, so he just started writing. His work is visceral, ethereal and in your face.

All of Guirgis' plays are written in what could be considered the vernacular of the lower social class in New York City. The pages of the play are littered with racial and ethnic slurs, swearing and slang. Director Neville-Andrews says that "the language in the play probably wouldn't even cause raised eyebrows in New York City, but may cause audiences in non-urban areas a bit of discomfort." However, he also feels that the language is an integral part of the play. "They are vulnerable in so many different ways. The language they use and the violence they threaten and act on sends a message that they shouldn't be messed with. It brings you into their world."
- Rachel Francisco

Press Release
Ann Arbor - The University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama opens the UM School of Music season with "In Arabia We'd All Be Kings," a contemporary drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis. "In Arabia..." plays October 7 & 14 at 7:30 PM, October 8, 9, 15, & 16 at 8 PM, and October 10 & 17 at 2 PM at the Trueblood Theatre in Ann Arbor. The play is directed by UM Professor John Neville-Andrews. A rich character study of down-on-their-luck individuals, "In Arabia..." is recommended for mature audiences only.

"In Arabia We'd All Be Kings" was the first major work by Stephen Adly Guirgis (pronounced gear-gis) for the LAByrinth Theater Company in New York City. An actor in the company, Guirgis stepped into writing when the company was looking for new work. "In Arabia..." was named one of the 10 best new plays of 1999 by Time Out NY magazine. His second work, "Jesus Hopped the A Train," won the Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival, and the Detroit Free Press Play of the Year, as well as received an Olivier Award nomination for best new play. "Our Lady of 121st Street," his most recent work, premiered Off-Broadway in 2002 receiving Best Play nominations from the Drama Desk and the Lucille Outer Critics Circle. Building on his experiences as a violence prevention specialist with New York City schools and prisons, Guirgis's work centers on individuals who live on the fringe of society.

Set around a bar in Hell's Kitchen, "In Arabia..." is a portrait of life on the streets. The characters in the play include Lenny, a recently released ex-convict; Daisy, his alcoholic girlfriend who abandons him in favor of Chinese takeout; Skank, a failed actor turned junkie and his crackhead hooker girlfriend Chickie; DeMaris, a seventeen year-old single mother; and other bar regulars. Each character uses raw, explicative-charged language particular to this group of people.

"The language in the play probably wouldn't even cause raised eyebrows in New York City, but may cause audiences in non-urban areas a bit of discomfort,"  says director John Neville-Andrews. "The character use harsh, aggressive, and objectionable language as a defensive mechanism, because for people to appear vulnerable in the predatory atmosphere of Hell's Kitchen would surely expose them to being taken advantage of, and to experiencing violence, and possibly death. It is the same reason they rely on drugs and alcohol- a barrier against any unpleasant reality. "

Director Neville-Andrews was drawn to "In Arabia..." for its visceral and faithful representation of the language and characters who populated Hell's Kitchen in the 90s. "Guirgis has a gift for combining terse, colorful characters in unique hard-edged situations where their personalities are bound to conflict. These violent confrontations are not without their own brand of humor, which combined with the characters' disagreeable, non-politically correct vernacular, creates a vibrant mosaic of rich language and behavior."

Joining Neville-Andrews on the artistic team is scenic designer Gary Decker, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama whose designs were last seen in "The Quick-Change Room." Jennifer Nweke, an undergraduate student in the Department, makes her debut as costume designer. Janine Woods, another undergraduate student whose work was last seen in "An Arthur Miller Celebration" designs lights.

Tickets for "In Arabia We'd All Be Kings" are $15 general admission with students $9 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at The Trueblood Theatre, located within the Frieze Building at the corner of State and Huron Streets, is handicapped accessible.
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CAST (Hometown): Kirsten Mara Benjamin (Detroit, MI), Adam H. Caplan (Hemet, CA), Rachel Chapman (Sylvan Lake, MI), Jen Freidel (Dallas, TX), De'Lon Grant (Duluth, MN), Justin Patrick Holmes (Idyllwild, CA), Elizabeth Hoyt (Manitowoc, WI), Edmund Alyn Jones (Detroit, MI), J. Theo Klose (West Chester, PA), Kevin Kuczek (Howell, MI), Matthew Smith (Yorba Linda, CA), Daniel Strauss (Washington, DC), James Wolk (Farmington Hills, MI)

- Kerianne M. Tupac

Program Notes
If the characters in this play were transported intact to Arabia, they'd each suffer one or more of the following punishments: stoning, mutilation, hanging and beheading, for the world they inhabit is at the bottom of the social underworld, the streetcorners, the crack joints, the dead end bars, cold park benches, prisons, places where they perpetually walk a razor thin boundry between random, meaningless life and random, meaningless death. Their world is devoid of any discernible moral order as we think we know it, as we think we have. "In Arabia We'd All Be Kings" is a series of rambling revelations, a kind of "reality theater," shocking with raw, repulsive images and behavior that we can also witness in, among other places, Jerry Springer's tv world. But author Guirgis is not content to merely let us glimpse this splattering of life, to show us how these people live; he wants us to see the world as they see it, as they experience it, but not through conventional psychological character development, plotted action and a dramatic arc, but, rather, through their daily struggles to exist, to survive in a larger world that they barely understand, to insist on some sense of personal dignity and worth however small, to dream of a better life for themselves, to nurture those naive dreams with drugs, alcohol and crippled love. Guirgis guides us through a living museum of helpless, wretched souls, but he doesn't explain to us what we're seeing; he merely draws our attention to the images and moves on. His racial, ethnic and gender perjoratives are plentiful and universally bestowed, for he lets the characters express themselves in the naked, harsh vernacular of their underworld. What little change that occurs in this theatrical spectacle (for it is not a "play" in the traditional sense) is change from forces external to the underworld. The characters merely respond to the changes which the forces randomly impose. Guirgis has given us a torturous portrait of postmodern hunter/gatherers in the urban wilderness of New York City. 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.

- OyamO

Click here to view In Arabia We'd All Be Kings program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

The Bar Elizabeth Hoyt as Daisy and Kevin Kuczak as Lenny

Jen Friedel as Demaris and Kirsten Mara Benjamin as Miss Reyes Kevin Kuczek and Daniel Strauss as Sammy

Kirsten Mara Benjamin and Kevin Kuczak De'lon Grant as Vic and Kevin Kuczak

Daniel Strauss Rachel Chapman as Chickie

J. Theo Klose as Charlie and Rachel Chapman Edmund Alyn Jones as Greer

Matthew Smith as Skank Edmund Alyn Jones and Matthew Smith

Rachel Chapman and Jen Friedel Jen Friedel

Adam H. Caplan as Holy Roller and Rachel Chapman Elizabeth Hoyt and James Wolk as Jake

James Wolk Adam H. Caplan, Justin Patrick Holmes, and Edmund Alyn Jones

Kevin Kuczak and Matthew Smith