Our Lady of 121st Street
nytheatre.com review by Travis Richards
March 8, 2009
Our Lady of 121st Street is a dark comedy written by playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis. It revolves around the wake of Sister Rose (Sister Rose being Our Lady of 121st Street). Sister Rose's body has been stolen from her coffin and the police have made the wake a crime scene. While the question of who stole the Sister's body looms in the background, the real story is about the lives and interactions of a diverse group of characters that come to pay their final respects. Each of the characters, including Sister Rose herself, has major issues with their lives, including alcoholism, loyalty, infidelity, betrayal, heresy, and coming to terms with one's sexuality. It seems the point of the play is more about airing this wide array of issues than resolving them. This is definitely one of those plays where you look to the guy next to you to confirm that "Yes, that really was the ending," before you begin clapping.
The humor of the play is driven by quick-paced and often lewd dialogue. This type of writing requires a deep connection between the actors to fully pull off the performance. Unfortunately, there are many pregnant pauses between the actors that get in the way of the play's natural flow. At points the dialogue simply does not ring true. However, there are many moments when the connections click and consequently have the entire audience laughing out loud (well, except maybe for the lady who left at intermission because of the language).
The overall set design is minimal. In true black box fashion, the entire set is comprised of perhaps eight wooden crates at most. While this fact does not add anything aesthetically, it does allow for quick scene changes in an attempt to keep the play moving. The director of the play, Foster Davis, does this for the first act. However, the second act lags considerably. Overall there is too much internal reflection and not enough truthful being.
Even with its harsh language the production itself is quite mundane. It does have moments that surprise and fully engage the audience. These moments are too far and in between, however, to create a truly fulfilling theatre experience.