Experiments at the Lab: How a Motherfucker Is About to Make the LAByrinth a Hit

mother er0727 c2a9 joan marcus Experiments at the Lab: How a Motherfucker Is About to Make the LAByrinth a Hit“I think if you’re in the theater, of course, the idea of coming to Broadway is exciting, the same way that if you’re a baseball player, you want to play in Yankee stadium,” said the playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis.

It was a little after noon on March 10, and Mr. Guirgis was sitting on the mezzanine stairs of the Schoenfeld Theatre on West 45th Street, preparing for the rehearsal of his new play, The Motherfucker With the Hat, which opens on Broadway on April 11. Staring up at the high, ornate ceiling of the sumptuous venue, Mr. Guirgis, who is one of three artistic directors of the LAByrinth Theater Company, seemed a little surprised that he was there. The play had begun modestly, as most of his earlier work did, like The Little Flower of East Orange, with a small budget and plans to be staged at the Public Theater. He was happy that way. Until Scott Rudin, the Hollywood superman responsible for everything from The Social Network to The Book of Mormon, called. And called again.

“He had read the play and he kept calling my agent saying he wanted to do the play and my agent kept saying, ‘No, we’re going to do it at the Public.’ And then at a certain point, my agent called me and was like, ‘I think you need to listen to what Scott has to say.’” Mr. Guirgis, who has spiky silver hair, looked down at his calves, which seemed to melt straight into his feet without the traditional transition of an ankle. His burgundy sweatpants–cut off at the knee into shorts–matched the color of the theater’s carpeting. When he finally spoke to Mr. Rudin, the producer was straightforward. “How about you, me, LAByrinth, the Public and Broadway?”

Mr. Guirgis shrugged now, as if to say, ‘Why not?’ “He’s an amazing producer, so it was easy to want to try it,” he told The Observer.

The power of Hollywood has infiltrated every aspect of American life, from video games to juice cleanses, and Broadway has not been spared. From the surge of film stars eager to take a turn onstage to high-profile producers ready to switch from celluloid to center stage, Broadway is Hollywood’s latest conquered frontier–the White Man’s Burden meets the Great White Way. Critics, ticket sales and audience interest confirmed the success of the Silver Screen imperialists–and for the low-budget, highly regarded LAByrinth Theater Company, Scott Rudin delivered all of the above. Not only did the producer secure the 1,000-seat Schoenfeld Theatre (which previously housed A Chorus Line, with Katie Holmes, and, more recently, A Behanding in Spokane, headlined by Christopher Walken) but he brought the script to Chris Rock, who had been looking for an ensemble part in a smart Broadway play.

“They were like: ‘You can’t play the lead. Not a lot of money. You have to read for it,’” Mr. Rock recently told The New York Times. He continued, “I’m like: ‘I don’t care. I hadn’t seen anything good in so long.’”

Bingo. The LAB, once overshadowed in the theater world by glossier high-budget companies and known for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and Our Lady of 121st Street (both Guirgis-written) now had a Hollywood box-office-busting star in their first Broadway show.

Mr. Guirgis, who had many different actors read for the part of the sponsor, including Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Shannon and The Wire‘s Andre Royo, was immediately taken by Mr. Rock. “We went out and got something to eat, and in talking to him I quickly figured out that he’s a guy who could have been in 53rd Street with us when we started the LAB. He’s one of us.”

But not exactly. “We’d be stupid not to acknowledge that we have a major, major star in the show,” said Bobby Cannavale, a company member who plays the lead in the play, which chronicles the struggles of a recovering addict and his less-than-perfect sponsor. “Whatever gets people into their seats works for me.”