Review: Our Lady of 121st Street (Eclipse Theatre)

| July 20, 2016

Anthony Apodaca and Kristen Johnson in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse Theatre           
      
     
Our Lady of 121st Street 

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru Aug 21  |  tix: $30  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

Sharp and gut-wrenching

  

Rudy Galvan as Pinky in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse Theatre

    
Eclipse Theatre Company presents
    
Our Lady of 121st Street

Review by Lauren Whalen

Like the characters in Our Lady of 121st Street, I am a product of Catholic school. Granted, my school was in a farm town and not the inner city, but the nuances and habits of Catholic schoolers worldwide hold fast, even decades after graduation and, in many cases, loss of faith. Eclipse Theatre Company continues its Stephen Adly Guirgis season with Our Lady, an ensemble drama centering on the death of a beloved nun and schoolteacher. In the day leading up to her wake, nothing and everything changes. Our Lady doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch of Eclipse’s previous work, the unforgettable Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, but the former stands on its own as a beautifully charged collective eulogy.

Matt Thinnes and Gregory Geffrard in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse TheatreSister Rose wasn’t a perfect human – free with corporal punishment, she eventually succumbed to her lifelong alcoholism – but nonetheless, her activism and kindness resonated with children. Her now-grown and far-flung students convene in Harlem for Sister Rose’s funeral, but there’s only one problem: her body has gone missing. Meanwhile, those who’ve left the neighborhood struggle to reconcile who they were with who they’ve become, and those who have stayed have issues of their own. As the wake grows closer with Sister Rose’s body still missing, forced confrontations and long-buried secrets bring forth the complexities underlying a simple day of remembrance.

Guirgis’ plays vary wildly in plot and tone, but his voice remains consistent: wry, observant and deeply human. He’s not interested in the movers and shakers, but in the ordinary people for whom getting out of bed is more often than not its own battle. His characters are diverse and dignified (even the drug dealers, serial killers and Judas himself), and love as much as they squabble, maybe more. With several separate but intertwining storylines, Our Lady of 121st Street is one of Guirgis’ grittiest, most intelligent scripts. Director Sarah Moeller (also a Catholic school teacher, like Sister Rose) puts the cast through their paces, demanding it all with mostly impressive results. Moeller guides each actor through a personalized but prominent arc with a sure hand, resulting in a satisfying and full audience experience.

Celeste M. Cooper, Kevin Scott, Bernard Gilbert, Anthony Apodaca and Ashley Hicks in Our LadyGary Simmers and Bernard Gilbert in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse Theatre Paloma Nozicka, Ashley Hicks and Celeste Cooper in Our Lady of 121st StreetGregory Geffrard, Bernard Gilbert and Todd Garcia in Our Lady 121st Street

Moeller expertly stages the play on Kevin Hagan’s brilliant set, an amalgam of diner booths and makeshift confessionals adorned with graffiti and religious imagery. Thanks to Moeller and Hagan’s combined efforts, each beat and transition is sharply defined and visually illuminated, highlighting Guirgis’ tragic humor to the fullest. Actor standouts include Celeste M. Cooper as a wronged wife whose ex is back in town, Rudy Galvan as a sweet, mentally challenged young man who’s never forgotten Sister Rose’s generosity, and Ashley Hicks as a clueless suburbanite who has no idea of the emotional minefield into which she’s wandered.

After even one year of Catholic school, the Sign of the Cross is ingrained into your physicality. You address men and women of the cloth as “Father” and “Sister” without a second thought, and know exactly when your last confession was. Our Lady of 121st Street is a tribute to innocence lost and the lasting effects of childhood religion. Lovingly written, directed and designed, this funeral dramedy is a fitting second act of Eclipse’s all-Guirgis season.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

Our Lady of 121st Street continues through August 21 at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $30 (students & seniors: $20), and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or via OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at EclipseTheatre.com(Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, includes an intermission)

Celeste M. Cooper, Ashley Hicks and Poloma Nozicka in Our Lady of 121st Street

Photos by Scott Dray


  

artists

cast

Kevin Scott (Victor), Todd Garcia (Balthazar), Bernard Gilbert (Rooftop), Gary Simmers (Father Lux), Gregory Geffrard (Flip), Matt Thinnes (Gail), Celeste M. Cooper (Inez), Paloma Nozicka (Norca), Anthony Apodaca (Edwin), Rudy Galvan (Pinky), Kristen Johnson (Marcia), Ashley Hicks (Sonia)

Understudies: Zachery Alexander (Gail), Jerome Beck (Flip), Zach Bloomfield (Father Lux), Brandon Boler (Rooftop), Morgan Laurel Cohen (Marcia/Sonia), LaNora Terrae Hayden (Inez, Norca)

behind the scenes

Sarah Moeller (director), Kevin Scott, Nathaniel Swift (producers), Kevin Hagan (scenic design), Kathleen Dickinson, Ashley Bowman (production managers), Justin Dietzel (assistant director), Emily Ioppolo (stage manager), Mike Winkelman (lighting design), Thomas Dixon (sound design), Zachery Alexander (costume design), Vanessa Thomas (properties design), Krissy Delahanty (assistant stage manager), Catherine Miller (dramaturgy), Sammi Grant (dialect coach), Stephen Dale (fight consultant), JP Pierson (casting director), Scott Dray (photos)

Anthony Apodaca, Kristen Johnson and Rudy Galvan in Our Lady of 121st Street Gary Simmers, Bernard Gilbert and Todd Garcia in Our Lady of 121st StreetKevin Scott and Todd Garcia in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse Theatre Anthony Apodaca and Kristen Johnson in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse Theatre Celeste M. Cooper and Bernard Gilbert in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse Theatre Matt Thinnes and Gregory Geffrard in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse TheatreAnthony Apodaca and Kristen Johnson in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse Paloma Nozicka and Celeste M. Cooper in Our Lady of 121st Street, Eclipse Theatre

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Category: 2016 Reviews, Athenauem, Eclipse Theatre Company, Lauren Whalen, Stephen Adly Guirgis

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