Review: Theater students bring ‘Our Lady’ back to life on stage

MFA actor Dylan Paul Hilpman brought relief to this dark comedy as Gail, an eccentric actor at odds with his boyfriend, Flip. | Pin Lim/Forest Photography

This weekend concluded the run of “Our Lady of 121st Street” that the UH School of Theatre and Dance ran for a week in the black box of the Wortham Center.

“Our Lady,” written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Keith Byron Kirk, is plotted around the death of Sister Rose and her mysteriously missing body from the viewing room of a Catholic church.

The main story line, however, focuses on the bizarre and deranged lives of several New Yorkers who all shared a mutual companion in Sister Rose.

They all travel to the community’s Catholic church to pay their respects to the late mentor and subsequently run into familiar faces of the past that come with a lot of extra baggage, including ex-best friends and old flings.

The opening scene is filled with impressive and thick New York accents that immediately fill the room.

The fast-paced East Coast accents only get better and become more infectious as each cast member enters the play.

Senior BFA actress Shannon Mullarkey, who was cast as Norca, exemplified her New York persona extremely well.

Mullarkey’s character is a promiscuous New York woman who infamously slept with her former best friend’s husband many years before.

Mullarkey’s character — who was notorious for being manipulative, rude and vulgar — was seen as the common antagonist among the small circle of mutual friends.

Norca’s risqué wardrobe truly brought her character to life and made for a believable New Yorker who desperately hit rock bottom in a tough time for the grimy streets of the Big Apple.

Inez is the aforementioned former best friend of Norca who is still bitter and grieving after all these years. Buffalo State College graduate Martine Fleurisma was given the opportunity to play this role and her performance was exceptionally powerful.

Fleurisma’s character had a big personality and because of this, her stage presence was very dominant. Inez was a character that was loud, outspoken and unforgiving.

In the concluding scenes of “Our Lady of 121st Street,” Inez leaves a lasting impression on the audience by effectively releasing her built-up anger toward her ex-husband as she finally confronts him.

The unfaithful ex-husband that unfortunately links the two characters Norca and Inez together is known as Rooftop, played by junior BFA actor Chris Battle-Williams.

Battle-Williams was entertaining to watch as his character shifted in and out between comical and serious scenes.

However, second-year MFA actor Dylan Paul Hilpman, who plays Gail, a gay man at odds with his partner Flip played by first year MFA actor Martel Manning, provided the play’s main source of comic relief.

Paul’s role as Gail — at the expense of the stereotypical image of a dramatic and flamboyant gay man — had the audience eagerly laughing from start to finish. Even his final bow at the conclusion of the show drew a few more chuckles from theater-goers.

In the midst of this month’s traditional fall festivities centering around Halloween, this dark and humorous play was very appropriate and easily enjoyable.

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