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Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven

A goat appears in playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ searing 18-character contemporary saga set in a NYC women’s halfway house that’s supremely presented.

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Kara Young, Esteban Andres Cruz, Benja Kay Thomas, Pernell Walker and Liza Colón-Zayas in a scene from Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Mr. Skittles, an onstage goat’s actions prove to be a crucial plot point in Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven and testifies to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ theatrical brilliance. This swirling and gripping three hour saga is set in an Upper West Side Manhattan government funded residence for women, “Hope House.” With brief references to President Donald Trump and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, finally here is the searing major American play that truly reflects the present time.

It’s structured as short scenes of differing tones crisply blending into the next with cinematic flair. Mr. Guirgis’ trademark earthy, often very funny and moving dialogue which is rooted in the vernacular of the streets of New York is a joy to experience.

Elizabeth Canavan, Liza Colón-Zayas, Kara Young and Pernell Walker in a scene from Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

I give you five dollars for Hot Cocoa, you come back with no change, wiping Barbecue Potato Chip remains off your face — Buttered Roll in your back pocket, pack of Twinkies up your sleeve.

If I ever went back to dick, it’d be Tom Petty. If, like, he wasn’t dead. I never met him, but you could just tell: he gets it.

Rockaway Rosie here, she a straight up Archie Bunker Bitch, if it was up to her, Me & Munchie and Melba would be her slaves, peeling her powder white ass some purple grapes off the vine –

Sean Carvajal and Dave Anzuelo in a scene from Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

Besides Mr. Skittles, there are 18 other characters of different races, ages, genders and sexualities. They’re a cross section of the downtrodden and those involved with aiding them. Ex-convicts, the homeless, an Iraq war veteran, drug addicts, battered women and their children, social workers, staff members, law officers, a trans woman who incites divisiveness, and a wily Catholic priest who once threw a man off the roof of a building are all vividly realized by Mr. Guirgis’ supreme command of dramatic writing. Each one of these many figures are majestically fleshed out, some in great detail. Guirgis goes beyond offering a loving mosaic of character studies by gradually injecting a suspenseful narrative that reaches a bleak yet hopeful conclusion.

The titanic cast of Victor Almanzar, David Anzuelo, Elizabeth Canavan, Sean Carvajal, Patrice Johnson Chevannes, Molly Collier, Liza Colón-Zayas, Esteban Andres Cruz, Greg Keller, Wilemina Olivia-Garcia, Kristina Poe, Neil Tyrone Pritchard, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Andrea Syglowski, Benja Kay Thomas, Viviana Valeria, Pernell Walker, and Kara Young all offer rich performances emitting tragedy and comedy.

Elizabeth Canavan, Patrice Johnson Chevannes, Kara Young and Benja Kay Thomas in a scene from Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

Director John Ortiz fulfills Guirgis’ vision with his energetic though focused staging, achieving momentum, visual variety and emotional force. One cranes one’s head to take in all of Mr. Ortiz’s panorama. It’s performed all over scenic designer Narelle Sissons’ two-level masterpiece of a crumbling Manhattan building with actions taking place outside as well on park benches and alleys. Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting design melds starkness with artfulness.

Composer Elisheba Ittoop’s stimulating score adds to the effectiveness of the scene transitions. Her music and sound effects are rendered by her bold design. That costume designer Alexis Forte clothes 18 diverse characters with realism and individual style is remarkable. UnkleDave’s Fight House contributes plentiful and riveting stage combat sequences.

Liza Colón-Zayas and Elizabeth Rodriguez in a scene from Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” (Photo credit: Monique Carboni)

While emulating the sensibilities and techniques of Lanford Wilson’s Balm in Gilead and Hot L Baltimore, Guirgis in Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven takes the dramatization of contemporary disenfranchised lives to a magnificent level.

Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven (through January 5, 2020)

Atlantic Theater Company in a co-production with LAByrinth Theater Company

Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.labtheater.org

Running time: three hours including one intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (726 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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