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Off-Broadway Review: “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” at Atlantic Theatre Company’s Linda Gross Theatre (Through Sunday January 5, 2020)

Off-Broadway Review: “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” at Atlantic Theatre Company’s Linda Gross Theatre (Through Sunday January 5, 2020)
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by John Ortiz
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The epic new work penned by Stephen Adly Guirgis entitled “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” refers to the vast array of residents in a transitional shelter for women on the upper Westside of Manhattan. It is a motley group of misfits of every age, race, size, color and sexual status that seem to have a firm grip on the majority of social ills that infect the all too often forgotten, less fortunate inhabitants of a large city. Issues of drugs, alcohol, weight, PTSD, parental control, mental illness, depression, sexual identity and education plague the temporary tenants while understaffing, poor funding, and budget cuts torment the workforce. It certainly creates a perfect storm that can and does wreak havoc as the community that seeks safety become their own worst enemy.

There is a large cast of characters, nineteen if you count the goat Mr. Skittles, and he does not even escape the wrath of being exposed to the crass activities of the unruly inhabitants. The events and behavior provide much of the comedy as vulgar verbal attacks explode and characters fluent in profanity articulate their feelings spouting obscenities faster than bullets from a semi-automatic weapon. At times this tactic turns the proceedings into more of an R rated sitcom than a good stage play and might question whether this situation should evoke any humor, since the audience laughs at them not with them. Understood it is done to accentuate the predicament and being a protection mechanism is more about fear than anger, but at the same time it may diminish the gravity and importance of the situation.

Some characters are defined better than others, so perhaps the playing field is a bit overcrowded and would benefit if there were fewer players trying to navigate the treacherous game of survival. There are so many things right about Mr. Guirgis’ play but there are also a few things wrong when it is looked at as a complete work. After almost three fast hours you may feel as if you want it continue which is since it really has no ending. What happens to these people after the shelter is shut down due in part to gentrification? They just move onto the next transitional opportunity with no real resolution.

The cast is superb and competently inhabits each of the downtrodden characters with precision and depth, but it is uneven because some are allotted more time and exposure to tell their stories than others. The group is boisterous, the individuals are intense, and each combat zone is threatening. Some scenes that provide insight into the characters background, divulge secrets that explain why they are at the shelter and are heartbreaking. John Ortiz deftly directs this ensemble with the utmost care assuring honest translations of each character’s emotional state while trying to avoid stereotypical behavior. This becomes more difficult and starts to waiver as the plot becomes overloaded, slowly losing its authenticity. Mr. Guirgis has managed to construct a play that provides an acute perception of a broken system using his streetwise wisdom and wit to soften the blow. It is not perfect but remains a remarkable piece of theatre.

HALFWAY BITCHES GO STRAIGHT TO HEAVEN

The cast of “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” features 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.

“Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” features scenic design by Narelle Sissons, costume design by Alexis Forte, lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger, sound design and original compositions by Elisheba Ittoop, fight direction by UnkleDave’s Fight House, casting by Telsey + Company, and animals by William Berloni.

“Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven” runs at Atlantic Theatre Company’s Linda Gross Theatre (336 West 20th Street) through Sunday January 5, 2020. For the full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://atlantictheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

Photo: Sean Carvajal and Kara Young in “Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, December 23, 2019