Reviewed by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
Historically it’s been side by side panned for its character flaws and praised for its authenticity. Ultimately, the issue that plagued playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ (Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, The Motherfucker with the Hat, Between Riverside and Crazy) award-nominated, Our Lady of 121st Street at its beginnings, still resonates generations later in Loft Ensemble’s most recent production. It’s hard to call it a real play.
Filled with a host of rough-hewn neighborhood miscreants including a somewhat (on this occasion) 70’s-like throwback, pantless crazy who seriously references Welcome Back Kotter‘s dim-witted Arnold Horshack with a head bandeau, and a purposeless female character that has no raison d’etre at all, there is enough grit, sorrow, and outlandish behavioral atrocities to go around.
In Guirgis’ play, a group of former students returns to the neighborhood to pay respects to their teacher, the late Sister Rose. In reality, Sister Rose was a mean drunk. She also dedicated her life to laboriously helping each kid that landed in her classroom. This is what this group has come to honor her for. But at the funeral home, there’s a problem—her dead body has been stolen.
Not particularly a narrative, Our Lady of 121st Street is more a series of musically interluded scenes that don’t necessarily drive the action forward so much as they ‘add up’ like a sum of numbers in an excel spreadsheet. There isn’t any particular arc. The play itself feels stuck in the past. And the seriously hopeless vibe of these characters’ realities punctuated by audience-leading TV transitions often translates into absurd comedy in that, these very complicated people don’t have a clue. Yet each one is looking for the answer to a question and a sort of redemption. There isn’t much to have here, though. Every one of these people is completely ill-equipped to repair the damage they cause, no matter how well-intentioned.
It’s an overall interesting enough piece. Although, director Adams Chambers could have given us a bit more clarity in the stage action. And the actors might have delivered a bit more on their vocal clarity. And the ending could have been more specific.
But there are moments. Hard-won moments of real truth, empathy, and hilarity that keep it all together. Even if they can’t.
Directed by Adam Chambers
Assistant Director is Madylin Sweeten Durrie
Scenic Design by Madylin Durrie
Lighting Design by Tor Brown
Costume Design by Alyssa Gorach
Sound Design by Adam Chambers and Tor Brown
Featuring (in alphabetical order):
Ben Anderson, Bridget Avildsen, Ela Castillo, Nandi Chapman, Brett Clevenger, Noah Copfer, Paige Gallagher, Barbara Ann Howard, Zenarra James, Mark Leclerc, Brian Majestic, Kristian Maxwell-McGeever, Mphatso Mgongira, Ignacio Navarro, Chris Oliver, Kevin Padilla, La’Vel Stacy, Abbygail Williams, Jared Wilson, Nora Yessayan
Photo (above) by Emma Latimer: L to R — Chris Oliver, Nandi Chapman, Paige Gallagher