(Als’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 4/25.)
Spend some time on the upper Upper West Side of Manhattan, where the forty-six-year-old Stephen Adly Guirgis grew up, the son of an Irish mother and an Egyptian father, and you can still hear the notes in the scale of his theatrical repertoire: black, Jewish, and Latino voices that meet and crash and land on the predatory streets that his characters sometimes stalk far into the night, in search of a little coke, perhaps, or some Chicken McNuggets. Although Guirgis’s scripts are short on detail when it comes to the spaces his characters inhabit, you can picture them from the way the characters talk and express—or don’t express—their aspirations. Guirgis, a brilliant comedic talent—who began his stage career at the LAByrinth Theatre Company, where Philip Seymour Hoffman, a co-founder, directed his early work with great compassion—also has an original and knowing take on class, particularly as it plays out among the bottom-of-the-barrel working-class poor, who are virtually invisible to the wealthier men and women around them. Guirgis’s characters are strivers who lack the language to “pass” in a white-collar world; they’re frustrated by limitations that they’re only half aware of, and that frustration provides much of the painful hilarity in their dialogue, which piles miscommunication on top of misunderstanding.