Stephen Adly Guirgis is a New York playwright whose roots shine through every word of his craft. His characters step right out of a late night, Bronx-bound D train and don’t even pause to stub out their cigarettes before walking onstage. As they deliver their opening lines, their creator’s goal becomes crystal clear: this Upper West Side native wants to deliver the down-and-out essence of his city right to the vein, in all its barbs, slang, humor, and heart.
So it’s really no wonder that one of his plays – the one that recently lassoed six Tony nominations, incidentally – carries the title, The Motherf**ker with the Hat. For all we know, it was a term of endearment on his block.
But there’s more. It’s not just that Guirgis (pronounced GEAR-ghis), is so damn good at New York portraiture. It’s not even that he regularly collaborates with the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell and Eric Bogosian. What’s so striking is that Guirgis, along with so many of the characters in his plays, is incurably God-haunted.
See, Guirgis’ Catholic upbringing left an indelible mark. As he says in his interview, “it doesn’t leave you easy.” So in his plays, biblical characters become 21st century New Yorkers. Gone are the red-cheeked, plaster saints; on Guirgis’ stage, guardian angels swap Newports, Satan goes by “Lou,” and St. Monica is so saucy, so Newyorkrican, so picante, that she makes Rosie Perez look like Betty Draper.
The same mind that produced The Motherf**ker with the Hat also birthed Our Lady of 121st Street, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, The Little Flower of East Orange and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. We got Guirgis on the phone last week. Here’s what he had to say about his craft and where it’s taken him.