Directed by Jaime Castaneda
At American Theatre Company (ATC)
Lack of story hurts energetic hip-hop drama
Kristoffer Diaz’s hit play,The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety, made him a playwright of note with promise. Welcome to Arroyo’s, now in a world premiere at ATC, was Diaz’s first full length play written while he was in college. It contains strong use of hip-hop music with all its comic elements. Diaz’s language is full of M–F’s as the designing adjective/adverb of his Puerto Rican New Yorkers.
Diaz’s world has colorful characters such as the two hip-hop DJ’s – Trip (Jackson Doran) and Nelson (Gregory Qalyum [GQ]) who add humor, hip-hop songs and act as a Greek chorus. These two were instantly lovable.
This troubled and uneven play is based on Alejandro Arroyo’s (Joe Minoso) attempt to change his beloved mother’s bodega (neighborhood food store/deli) into a lounge/bar in the hope that it would become a cultural hot spot. We never fully understand how or why Alejandro thinks a bar with hip-hop music will become a ‘cultural hot spot.’?
Enter Al’s sister, Amalia (Christine Nieves). She is a ferociously anger graffiti tagger bent on putting her name on the 7th Precinct Police station. Why? What has made Amalia is so mad at the world that she screams at everyone and slaps the rookie cop who is nice to her several times? Officer Derek (Edgar Muguel Sanchez) tries to understand her.
Arroyo’s only customer is Lelly Santiago (Sadieh Rifai) – a compulsive, stream-of-conscious, rapid-fire talking genius savant, Puerto Rican girl turned white. Her speech patterns make her incoherent; her nerdy persona makes any spark between her and Al unbelievable. Her research tells her that Al’s mother was, twenty years ago, the first female hip-hop DJ. Huh?
The story searches for personal identity and family bonds using the motif of hip-hop culture. There are some warm and funny moments but the play comes off as a modern fable with raw contemporary elements. The story has under developed characters that evoke little empathy. I left the show with many unanswered questions. A more focused story with more character development would have made the work more engaging. Diaz’s talent for getting audiences enchanted with hip-hop cultural was infectious – too bad he offered such a weak story. Some will feel that the hip-hop elements were enough, I still crave more story.
At American Theatre Compaany, 1909 W. Byron St., Chicago, IL, call 773-409-4125, www.atcweb.org, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.