Our Lady of 121st Street Review – Riveting

Stephen Adly Guirgis is an American playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor. He is a member and a former co-artistic director of New York City’s LAByrinth Theater Company and several of his plays have been produced in Chicago as well as on and Off-Broadway, in the UK and around the US.  Currently, the Eclipse Theatre Company is presenting his play Our Lady of 121st Street, directed by Eclipse ensemble member Sarah Moeller, at the Athenaeum Theatre until August 21st.

 

Gail (Matt Thinnes) and Flip (Gregory Geffrard)

Interestingly, the Eclipse Theatre Company is in its 24th year but they were unknown to me before I went to this play.  The company was also unknown to my companion but she had never been to the Athenaeum Theatre before, either.  This became an evening of discovery.

  

Pinky (Rudy Galvan)

The Eclipse Theatre Company is distinguished as the only Midwest theatre company to feature one playwright for their entire season. This is the year of plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Running concurrently is another of Guirgis plays, “Between Riverside and Crazy”, a 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner, playing at Steppenwolf.  Apparently both of these plays deal with many of our current, frequently hidden societal problems, and place them “in your face”.

  

Vic (Kevin Scott) and Balthazar (Todd Garcia)

Here is the basic story of Our Lady of 121st Street: “The Ortiz Funeral Home is in trouble - the body of beloved community activist and nun Sister Rose has been stolen from the viewing room. Waiting for her proper return are some of New York City's most emotionally charged, life-challenged neighborhood denizens, trying to find a place to put their grief, checkered pasts and their uncertain futures. The rest of the crowd in this dark and insightful comedy inevitably square off, motivated by rage, pain and a scary desire to come clean—perhaps for the first time. “

  

Inez (Celeste M. Cooper) and Rooftop (Bernard Gilbert)

This is a play that will not put you to sleep.  It is riveting.  Both the characters and their interactions are powerful.  It is a look at the world from a perspective very different than my own. The venue enhanced the story.  In this intimate space on the third floor, it was easy to feel a part of the interaction. The performances were strong and convincing throughout. The set was impressive in its detail, while the lighting, sound and costuming were consistent with the theme.  This was a very New York play with very strong accents that at times made it hard to catch all the words.

 

Edwin (Anthony Apodaca) and Marcia (Kristen Johnson)

 

There are some very funny lines and humorous situations, but for me there was too much angst to regard this as a comedy. Sister Rose had impacted the lives of the characters in some way.  Her former students and others in the neighborhood gathered for her funeral but her body was missing.  The gap between what each person was as a younger person, and what they have become is powerfully revealed.

  

Flip (Gregory Geffrard), Rooftop (Bernard Gilbert), and Balthazar (Todd Garcia)

His play The Mother***** With the Hat premiered on Broadway in 2011 feauring Bobby Cannavale and Chris Rock and also performed in Chicago.  (See Chicago Splash Magazine review).
 

 

Father Lux (Gary Simmers) and Rooftop (Bernard Gilbert)

 

Our Lady of 121st Street runs approximately two hours and twenty minutes, with one ten-minute intermission. Post-show discussions with the cast and crew will follow all Sunday matinees except opening and closing weekends (free with paid ticket).

  

Inez (Celeste M. Cooper), Sonia (Ashley Hicks), and Norca (Paloma Nozicka)

Upcoming events at Eclipse Theatre Company

 

 

Photos: Scott Dray

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