Los Angeles Theater Review: OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET (Victory Theatre in Burbank)

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by Tony Frankel on May 11, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles

IN HARLEM’S WAY

We never meet the titular Our Lady of 121st Street, a no-nonsense New York nun who had a profound effect on the characters in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2003 play. Nor do we meet, as it were, the plot. At rise, a middle-aged boxer shorts-wearing white man—his suit is conspicuously missing the pants—stands before a casket in a Harlem funeral home yapping at a Latino police detective. Apparently somebody’s stolen not only his slacks but the corpse, Sister Rose, the nun whose wake he was going to attend. The death of this cherished but dreaded teacher brings together a disparate collection of childhood friends. The body’s disappearance make their reunion last longer than expected.

OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET (Victory Bare Bones / Zubber Dust at The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank; Los Angeles)

Whereas a man’s hat set into motion the plot in Guirgis’s better-known and Tony-winning The Motherfucker with the Hat (2011), Our Lady’s missing pants (and body) offer up thematic meaning aplenty (disappearance of youth, the profane/sacred internal conflict, et al.), but these intriguing devices only serve as a mere premise to the playwright’s ultimate goal: edgy, funny, spiritual, streetwise, raw, intense roles for actors in what can be summed up as a series of related vignettes. (The company of NY’s LAByrinth Theatre, whose members include Guirgis and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, director of the original Our Lady, choose, create and produce projects based on just such plum parts.) The demon-battling crew includes a mixed-race gay couple (one of whom is stereotypically flamboyant), a black radio show host, a wheelchair-bound priest, Latino brothers (one a caretaker, one “slow”), and some foul-mouthed and angry women.

OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET (Victory Bare Bones / Zubber Dust at The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank; Los Angeles)

In his stage directorial debut, Ruman Kazi rather amazes in his ability to cast 12 actors well-suited to their assignments. There are some wonderful turns but some of the acting is overwrought and downright strange. While there are few mannerisms in Zubber Dust’s inaugural production, some actors confuse shrieking with anger and a scrunched face for melancholy. Alongside committed performers are some performances which should be committed. Combined with wonky staging and scene changes, this bare-bones production is as quirky as the script, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think a fringe production with a large cast and some better-than-average performances competing with inauthentic ones. The result, while entertaining and recommended, remains decidedly uneven.

OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET (Victory Bare Bones / Zubber Dust at The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank; Los Angeles)

The cast: John Del Regno, Alex Alpharaoh, Tee Williams, Mark Del Castillo-Morante, Napoleon Tavale, Joshua David Gray, Délé Ogundiran, Trista Robinson, Christopher Salazar, Peter Pasco, Ashley Platz, and Jessica Borne.

OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET (Victory Bare Bones / Zubber Dust at The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank; Los Angeles)photos by personal propaganda photography

Our Lady of 121st Street
Victory Bare Bones / Zubber Dust
The Victory Theatre Center
3326 W. Victory Blvd. in Burbank
ends on June 7, 2015
for tickets, call (818) 841-5422
or visit www.TheVictoryTheatreCenter.org

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