By Sandi Durell
Stephen Adly Guirgis, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright in 2000 – Between Riverside and Crazy, writes with guts and blood and not for the faint of heart. If you saw that or The Motherf…ker with the Hat, you know just what I mean. And if you’re a little uncertain about hearing the on-going profanity of the imprisoned at Rikers Island, you might reconsider as well.
The play is awash with minor and major monologues like pop ups that arise in empty spaces with their own humor and one-liners and a symphony of themes that encompass social justice, imprisonment, religious belief as the inmates and the guards battle their own demons.
Meet Angel Cruz (exquisitely and perceptively played by Sean Carvajal) who is praying to God, or at least trying to squeeze out a mishmash of The Lord’s Prayer, as he’s shouted down by his fellow inmates on death row.
The stark scenery (Riccardo Hernandez) of bars and cells resemble cages where animals would spend unending days. Angel’s public defender Mary Jane (a staunchly determined and caring Stephanie DiMaggio), whom he addresses as ‘bitch’ in an out-pouring of uncontainable anger, requesting a real lawyer, babbles out the fact that he shot the Reverend (“All I did was shoot him in the ass”) of a church that captured and brainwashed his childhood friend Joey, but it wasn’t murder. Seems the Reverend died of medical complications during surgery and in a very funny rant Angel blames the death on medical malpractice. He also goes off on the fact that the Reverend drove a Lexus and always had a cadre of bodyguards around him. He has little to no ability to filter his thoughts and they just flow out of his mouth, with no restraint.
In another cell, is the God-fearing, prayerful, peaceful and very taut but intelligent Lucius Jenkins (a very cool and cynical Edi Gathegi) a real glib talker, who spends his outdoor hour a day in frantic exercise awaiting extradition back to Florida where he’ll be executed having murdered eight people. His unemotional descriptions of the murders are gruesome as he shamelessly admits “ I didn’t get caught until I started killing white people.”
In the mix are two guards, the good natured Charlie (Erick Betancourt), who gets fired for providing Lucius with Oreo cookies, and the mean and cruel Valdez (Ricardo Chavira) to whom Lucius says “someone needs to give you a hug.”
Lucius and Angel fight vehemently about who’s to blame . . . God, themselves . . . a series of distortions that give insight and reveal the troubling inner core of each of the characters. The play is powerful, the actors riveting as Mark Brokaw drives the production with insightfulness aided by the dramatic lighting of Scott Zielinski.
Photos: Joan Marcus
Pershing Square Signature Center, run time two hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
thru November 12.