Three plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis

The last 2-1/2 months of 2015 were a wild ride for me. I still struggle to find the right words to describe all the experiences, yet remain dazzled by the outcomes of all of it and electrified for 2016.

In amongst everything that happened was a simple gesture on a dark day that felt like the deepest kindness in its moment. I was asked to join a tutor in a workshop yo read an excerpt of a Stephen Adly Guirgis play. The gesture and the reading balmed a heart that was very sore at the time. And in revisiting that small miracle I was moved to read the whole of the play.

Due to the vicissitudes of editions and my library’s buyer, I read In Arabia We’d All Be Kings in collection with: Our Lady of 121st Street and Jesus Hopped the A Train.

Perhaps I’m still a little too star-eyed about the last few emotional months, but these three plays together really captured the very modern poignant moment for me.

Guirgis’ characters are the people many of us ignore or disdain and off-handedly disrespect by not having any curiosity about the whole of their lives that may have brought them to the moment when we see them having a loud public argument, or acting in a way we might perceive as threatening, or selling themselves, or sitting, restlessly high, on a bench.

And he tells the story of their personal transformations which for all the ways they change their humanity, these transformations often aren’t enough to alter their circumstances.  Guirgis does this with a gigantic serving of humor, no side dish (or even after taste) of a guilt trip, and the tragedies in these plays are handled with an off-handedness which is both absolutely real for the context and sharpens the brutality by its casualness.

These three plays are good together and I recommend this collection if you can  find it. And read it in order. The intensity builds.  I came away from these plays feeling: deeply sad about the ways humanity can’t quite manage to serve and support all of its members; suffused with warmth for these earnest, fallible characters; and a little bit in awe of how immersive and thought-provokingly discomfiting Jesus Hopped the A Train was.

So adjust your profanity settings, and kick off your 2016 play reading with these gems. Be prepared to look at the publication/performance dates and be ashamed of how little has changed.

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