Theater Review: In Arabia We’d All Be Kings

’InThe Elephant Theatre sits on the eastern edge of Theater Row, an area bordered by the pompous beauty of West Hollywood and the unreconstructed grit of Hollywood proper. It’s a nasty, dirty part of town, one that gives that peculiar feel of guilt, horror and a strong desire for another $12 cocktail at a too-hip-to-have-a-name bar.

And it’s perfect.

“In Arabia We’d All Be Kings” is set in Hell’s Kitchen, a part of Manhattan noted for its honesty in advertising. Or, so it used to be. During the late 1990s, the ‘Kitchen closed, slowly morphing into hipster land, sporting high-end restaurants and no-name bars similar to the ones three blocks north of the Elephant.

The play itself takes place in a bar, and the characters themselves are like moving pieces of the beautifully designed set. They serve as archetypes of the neighborhood that was: the parolee, the whore, the druggie, the old drunk, a sycophantic bartender, opportunistic investors and a teenager with a hair-trigger.

The plot is loose, roughly revolving an imminent sale of the bar and its affect on the characters. Though clearly about gentrification, the play raises questions it does not intend to answer. Does the closing of the bar makes the characters lives better or worse? Is Hell’s Kitchen worth saving?

The plot, such that it is, clearly takes a back seat to the portraits of the characters, presented as a series of well-told vignettes. This is where the play shines. The acting and directing are fluid, the characters vibrant and real. During one particularly poignant part of the play, a woman behind me broke out into loud sobs. I had a lump in my throat myself.

In Arabia We’d All Be Kings
Elephant Theatre
6322 Santa Monica Blvd.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday 8 p.m., through March 17
Tickets and information