‘Welcome to Arroyo’s’ by Kristoffer Diaz: Bring on More Funk

I kicked myself at least a dozen times last year for missing The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Kristoffer Diaz’s full nelson of a play, ostensibly about wrestling, in its world premiere at Victory Gardens. I kicked myself again last week, when the play was named a Pulitzer finalist. So when I had the chance to attend Monday night’s premiere of another Diaz play, Welcome to Arroyo’s, running through May 16th at American Theater Company, I jumped…

GQ as Nelson Cardenal and Jackson Doran as Trip Goldstein in Welcome to Arroyo's
GQ (left) as Nelson Cardenal and Jackson Doran as Trip Goldstein are a two-man Greek chorus.

 

Cue the DJs, please. We just wish they had more stage time. 

THEATRE I kicked myself at least a dozen times last year for missing The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Kristoffer Diaz’s full nelson of a play, ostensibly about wrestling, in its world premiere at Victory Gardens. I kicked myself again this winter when it was announced that Chad Deity was making the jump to Off Broadway. And then one more time for good measure last week, when the play was named a Pulitzer finalist. So when I had the chance to attend Monday night’s premiere of another Diaz play, Welcome to Arroyo’s, running through May 16th at American Theater Company, I jumped.


Amalia Arroyo (Christina Nieves, left) confronts Officer Derek (Edgar Miguel Sanchez).

Diaz wrote Arroyo’s—his first full-length play, about a couple of siblings, their relationships, and their bodega-turned-bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side—seven years before Chad Deity, which puts it in the ungainly position of being an early work by a young writer that has suddenly become a Pulitzer-finalist successor.

Diaz seems to be experimenting here, playing with verse and audience interaction, and trying to bestow some realism (two meals get prepared onstage, to the unease of Monday’s audience member seated closest to the smoking, sizzling skillet) on characters that are drawn as DayGlo as the set’s graffiti. But with a pair of MCs as a Greek chorus and smatterings of irrepressible live rap, Arroyo’s all-or-nothing energy is undeniable—a jolt of fun that’s due, in no small part, to the other reason I was so anxious to see the play: the actor and playwright known as GQ, one-half of the killer Q Brothers.

While I didn’t see Chad Deity, I did see the Chicago-born Q Brothers’ Funk It Up About Nothin’, a hip-hop take on Much Ado About Nothing that premiered at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in fall 2008—and I haven’t stopped talking about it since: 65 minutes of witty, wordy, just-frisky-enough rhymes delivered with ample winks and wiggles on an eye-popping set that was part De La Soul music video, part Sesame Street. (The brothers’ previous efforts include the similarly styled The Bomb-itty of Errors.) I loved Funk It Up so much we recruited one of the guys’ electric cast mates, the adorable Ericka Ratcliff, as a 2009 Chicago magazine single; another Funk alum, Jackson Doran, appears in Arroyo’s, to great success. Funk It Up went on to rock the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and won a Jeff Award for best ensemble; meanwhile, I still find myself occasionally whispering the title rap: Funk, funk, funk, funk it up . . . about NOTHIN’.

Arroyo’s got me thinking about how well suited American Theater Company—a troupe lately committed to producing fresh, multicultural takes on contemporary America—would be to staging the Q Brothers’ next endeavor (and please, Brothers, say there is one). If you’re listening, ATC, that’s one play I wouldn’t miss for the world.
 

GO: Thru May 16. $35-$40. American Theater Company, 1909 W Byron, 773-409-4125.

WHAT CRITICS SAID ABOUT WELCOME TO ARROYO’S AND OTHER RELATED LINKS 
  • The Chicago Tribune’s review by Chris Jones, 4/20/2010: “There is nothing here to dispel the notion that Diaz is poised to become an important and exciting American playwright. But the youthfulness of this early piece shows. And the premiere production from Jaime Castañeda is a bit of a mess. [TWO STARS OUT OF FOUR]”
  • The Variety review by Steven Oxman, 4/21/2010: “It’s clever stuff, and although [Diaz] is prone to youthful excess (’My mind would be blown,’ says one DJ after a moment of revelation, ‘if I weren’t an omniscient narrator’), overall the two DJs successfully infuse energy throughout and keep the play proper from taking itself too seriously.”
  • Kristoffer Diaz’s blog post reacting to the Pulitzer news.
  • The Chicago Tribune’s review of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, by Chris Jones, 10/6/2009.
  • Chicago magazine’s 2008 preview of Funk It Up About Nothin’.

 

Photographs: Chris Plevin

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