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

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

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

Sharp and gut-wrenching

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

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 , 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. 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.

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

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

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 Galvanas 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 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.

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)

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

Photos by Scott Dray

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)

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

Tags: 16-0729, Anthony Apodaca, Ashley Bowman, Ashley Hicks, Athenaeum Theatre, Bernard Gilbert, Brandon Boler, Catherine Miller, Celeste M. Cooper, Chicago Theater, Eclipse Theatre, Emily Ioppolo, Gary Simmers, Gregory Geffrard, Jerome Beck, JP Pierson, Justin Dietzel, Kathleen Dickinson, Kevin Hagan, Kevin Scott, Krissy Delahanty, Kristen Johnson, LaNora Terrae Hayden, Lauren Whalen, Matt Thinnes, Mike Winkelman, Morgan Laurel Cohen, Nathaniel Swift, Paloma Nozicka, post, Rudy Galvan, Sammi Grant, Sarah Moeller, Scott Dray, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Stephen Dale, Thomas Dixon, Todd Garcia, Vanessa Thomas, Zach Bloomfield, Zachery Alexander

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


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