Life + Arts Theater

‘Our Lady of 121st Street’ is a comedic drama with mystery

It’s once again lights, camera and action with UH’s School of Theatre and Dance as it kicks off their production season with the comedic drama “Our Lady of 121st Street,” written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Demetria Thomas.

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

It’s once again lights, camera and action at UH’s School of Theatre and Dance as it kicks off their production season with the comedic drama “Our Lady of 121st Street,” written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Demetria Thomas.

Over the top and wickedly funny, the play focuses on the shocking murder of the beloved nun, Sister Rose, whose body has seemingly gone missing.

Along with her body missing, so are the pants of one of the characters, Victor played by Liam Johnson, who is distraught by the loss of his former teacher in the opening scene. 

How Victor’s pants and a beloved corpse become missing is a mystery, but it sets a precedent in how hilariously absurd the play gets. 

Investigating the case is Balthazar, played by Alex Vrinceanu, a New York City detective heartbroken by the news of Sister Rose and using drinking as a method to feel better. 

In the countdown to her funeral, the beloved nun’s death draws in other people she’s impacted: Rooftop, played by Rashaud Williams, a Los Angeles radio personality and womanizer; Inez, played by Maya Camille Boyd, his vengeful ex-wife; Flip, played by Antwan Smith, a closeted lawyer; Norca, played by Karina Eulloqui, a feisty and sharp-mouthed woman; Edwin, played by Daniel Quintero, the building super and caretaker of Pinky, played by Nico Castillo, his intellectually challenged, but cheerful younger brother.

With the people from Sister Rose’s past reconnecting, problems emerge, sending the play into a heavily foul-mouthed and eyebrow-raising drama. 

Quickly, the audience learns of Flip’s hesitation to come out despite being in a relationship with his boyfriend, Gail (Lloyd Wayne Taylor); Edwin’s troubles to take care of his brother; and Rooftop’s love for his ex-wife, despite cheating on her with a multitude of women, including her best friend, Norca.

While they do not resolve their problems, how they try fixing them is an unhinged rollercoaster from start to finish. 

It includes a tremendous amount of drinking, some of which fueled by a quiet and unassuming bartender (Diego Guajardo), a loud and punishing slap to Sonia (Olivia Knight), and a dramatic fall from a cigarette-triggered asthma attack from Sister Rose’s niece, Marcia (Abella Knott).

But the funniest fix goes to the long confessional delivered by Rooftop to the exasperated and contradictory priest, Father Lux (Chris Coley).

Notable performances come from Karina Eulloqui and Rashaud Williams, who provides the needed blend of drama and spot-on comedic timing for their respective characters. Additionally, Daniel Quintero captures the neurotic nature of Edwin and his deep emotional spiral regarding his brother long disappearance.

While the overall performance is incredible, the main critique is the storyline. With so many subplots, the play shrugs its character’s problems to the side.

Although Detective Balthazar finds half of the nun’s body and Victor’s pants, the question of who stole them is maddingly unresolved.

Aside from the mystery, the audience is also left to wonder who would commit an audacious crime (verdict is still out), whether Rooftop will get his ex-wife back (unlikely), if Edwin and Marsha will be the neurotic super couple (likely), if Flip and Gail still stay together (50/50 on that one) and why everyone is so rude to Sonia (unknown).

“Our Lady of 121st Street” provides gut-punching jokes and intriguing drama with the help of a dynamic ensemble. While the absurdity and hilarious nature of the plot keeps the audience begging for more, it is difficult to forget the unresolved problems of most of the characters at the end of the play.

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