Last night was a rather busy night. I started out by going to the Vigil Mass, because Fr. Joe wanted to anoint me before my surgery. As luck would have it, since Friday was the memorial for St. Blaise, Fr. Joe also blessed throats immediately after Mass. I thought only a few people would get in line, but about 2/3rds of the people jumped up in line to have their throats blessed, so by the time I stood up, I was near the end of the line. After Fr. was finished, he anointed me in the sacristy.
After I was anointed, I grabbed a quick dinner and headed down to see the Case MFA production of In Arabia We’d All Be Kings. Now, normally in this space, I would provide a summary of the plot of the play. However, there was no plot, at least no plot that I could discern. The play contained a series of scenes involving characters who gather in a bar, as well as on the streets. The scenes seemed to be loosely related to each other, and the characters did often reoccur. That being said, the play doesn’t end, it merely stops. Two of the characters do die in the play. One of the characters died at a bar, and the bartender left his body outside before calling 911. Another character, a woman who works as a prostitute to fund her crack addiction, is killed. A third character, who is trying to work as a hooker, is arrested.
That being said, the first year MFA students gave some amazing performances and there were some truly compelling moments: a seventeen year old girl threatens her mother with a gun; a man bullies another man, addicted to crack, into giving him a blow job for $20; and a man discovers that the woman he loved is murdered and decides to kill her good for nothing boyfriend. My favorite moment is when the prostitiute tries to help the seventeen year old girl learn how to turn tricks. When men come up to the seventeen year old girl, she pulls a gun on them and cusses them out, frightening them away. That scene was hilarious, and well worth the price of admission.
But all in all, I wondered what the playwright was trying to do with the play. The title, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, comes from a quote in the play itself, when the bar drunk wishes that they lived in Arabia, where they’d have two wives and they could be kings. Is the playwright arguing that these people are not naturally bad, but simply made bad by the harsh world of New York City? I suspect so, but it’s difficult to tell without a definite plot.
I was especially impressed with the performances that the actors were able to give. Many of them were playing at least two characters. The first year acting group looks very promising, and I am looking forward to seeing what they will produce next year.
Lastly, I have to mention that this is, I believe the inagural performace in the Cleveland Playhouse’s new lab theater. The lab theater was built to show productions by the MFA students, Cleveland State students, and other experimental works. The seating is along both sides of the theater, and the audience is elevated. It’s similar to a thrust stage, only with seatings on two sides instead of three. The audience is never more that four rows back from the stage. I love this kind of seating. It’s great for the actors, who derive a tremendous amount of their energy from the audience, and I love that it’s a completely different experience from the movies. Procenium theaters can often feel similar to a movie theater, due to the placement of the stage and the audience. As a result, I love thrust stage set ups. I get a much better view of the stage and the actors, and it both heightens and destroys the verisimilitude. It heightens it because the audience is so much closer to the action. (Throughout the play, I kept swearing that I could actually smell the alcohol.) At the same time, I could easily look across the stage and see the other audience members across from me, which would pull me out of the action. I think this is fascinating.
So, all in all, a great production of a very forgettable play. Before the play started, I remarked to my friend, “I’ve never heard of this playwright.” At the end of the play, I said, “I think there’s a reason I’ve never heard of him.” But the good news is, in a month, the third year MFA program will perform their swan song, The Winter’s Tale, and I have heard of that playwright.
*Photos Curtesy of the Cleveland Playhouse Website*