A full house faced an empty coffin opening night for OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET; it lay open like a pandora’s box that has loosed a maelstrom of emotions to any connected with the late Sister Rose, a drinking nun with a temper who taught and deeply touched many around her. In the wake of the misappropriation of her body, and a mourner’s pants, Sister Rose’s memorial services are in limbo while a police search ensues. Meanwhile, the audience is treated to a sequence of character rich vignettes, woven by Stephen Adly Guirgis with wit and sorrow from the fabric of inner city Harlem, and wonderfully directed by Bridget Dougherty.
It takes a compelling cast with courage to flesh out this character laden play, wherein despair is explored and life is lampooned using potty poetry, and this group makes the grade! Class “A” acting ensued from the opening scene, featuring Patrick Martin doing a great job as a very upset, ranting Victor, long time friend to Sister Rose and Timothy Jackson as Balthazar, the flask toting cop suffering a great loss in silence. Rooftop, played with cool panache by Richard Stevens Bradford, flies back from California for the funeral and decides to confess fifteen years worth of hot sin in one sitting to Father Lux, an embittered double leg amputee with a penchant for triple manhattans and little patience, gallantly portrayed by Leigh Jacobs, who splendidly enlightens him with “This is a confessional, not a conversational”. Walter DeShields renders a realistic Flip, who cannot be himself in “the old ‘hood” because that would mean revealing his relationship with Gail, his gay lover and wanna-be actor, who was fabulously funny as done by Adam Corbett. Sabrina Hall brought zip and zest to the role of Inez, Rooftop’s sassy ex-wife due to his fling with her close friend Norca, a foul mouthed narcotic using nutcase, scary but hilarious as portrayed by Heather Ferrel (wow, great transformation!). Edwin, given depth by Michael C. Raimondo, is dutiful and dedicated brother to Pinky, a young man who is mentally disabled, and in Edwin’s care for life. Joseph Cartagena Jr. brings Pinky to life and makes him shine. Erin Guard gives great gusto to Marsha, mood-swinging niece to Sister Rose, and Jillian Haas brings to her character, Marsha’s friend Sonia, simplicity and soul.
Seating is arranged in the round, increasing dynamic effects, audience/actor intimacy, and versatility in the use of the theater space and set design (Jolene Petrowski) and superb stage management (Denise Kolodziej) is evident throughout the many scene changes. Costumes (Becky Wright) and props (Pat Maze) fit well with the show. Lighting (Alan Stamford) was cleverly designed and well executed, featuring a stained glass gobo, and a lighted coffin that when shut, darkened the stage – right on cue! (It’s the little things…).
Guirgis mixes his characters into mayhem, reminding us how fragile life can be, and of the capacity for strength in the human spirit. Players Club of Swarthmore’s cast and crew of OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET give a thoroughly engaging embodiment to these charismatic characters and their environs.
Note: Profanity is used in this production.
OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET
by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Bridget Dougherty
January 24 – February 8, 2014
Players Club of Swarthmore’s Second Stage
614 Fairview Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081