The Free Association Theatre Ensemble will present Our Lady of 121st Street, a hot new dark comedy by hot new New York playwright and screenwriter Stephen Adly Guirgis, on Nov. 11, 12, and 17-19 in FATE’s performance space at 267 Grande Heights Dr. in the Harrison Pointe Shopping Center in Cary, NC. Our Lady of 121st Street made its Off-Broadway debut, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, on March 6, 2003 at the Union Square Theatre, where it played through July 27, 2003 and earned several 2003 Drama Desk and New York Critics’ Circle award nominations.
The New York Times praised Our Lady of 121st Street as “a scorching and dark new comedy,” and added, “Mr. Guirgis has one of the finest imaginations for dialogue to come along in years.” New York Magazine concurred: “Stephen Guirgis may be the best playwright in America under forty.”
“I first read this show a couple of years ago when someone recommended the playwright to me during an Artistic Reading Committee meeting,” recalls FATE founder and artistic director Julya M. Mirro, who will direct the show. “Once I read it, I fell in love with it; but the rest of the ARC was not so sure it was a good show for FATE. So, we launched a staged reading and that was very well received.”
She adds, “I like that the play is just these beats and interactions between friends, lovers, and strangers, all coming together for a wake and funeral; I think that it does a great job of capturing the kinds of reactions people have to loss, to long-lost friends, and to pain in their past resurfacing.
“The show isn’t clean or tidy,” says Mirro. “It’s chaotic and realistic, so there are moments of uncertainty, struggle, and silence. I really enjoy pieces that reflect realistic interaction, and so this show with such rich and varied characters was something which appealed greatly to me.”
When the curtain rises says Our Lady of 121st Street director Julya Mirro, “Sister Rose, an instructor at a Catholic school in Harlem, has just passed away; and several of her students come together to attend the wake and funeral. The show opens with Vic (Oliver Vest) ranting about the lack of respect shown Sister Rose in the funeral parlor, while Balthazar (John Paul Middlesworth) tries to get him to leave, so that the crime scene folks can get in to work, as Sister Rose’s body has been stolen.”
Mirro notes, “While everyone is awaiting word on Sister Rose’s body and how the funeral is going to be handled one way or the other, the locals and visitors come together to pass the time. We meet Rooftop (Ken Wolpert), who finds himself at a confessional after 15+ years, trying to relate to the reticent Father Lux (Chris Brown).
“Meanwhile,” Mirro says, “Robert (a.k.a. ‘Flip’), played by Gaby Leal, arrives in town with his partner, Gail (Ford Bowden), trying to bridge the gap between his life back home and his reputation in Harlem. Next door, Edwin (Thom Haynes) is trying to write a eulogy for Sister Rose, while his brother Pinky (Charlie Brown) interrupts him in pursuit of yodels and talk of his three girlfriends.
“Their camaraderie is interrupted by Sister Rose’s niece Marcia (Michelle Corbitt), who has dropped her ‘friend’ Sonia (Noelle Barnard) off at the bar around the corner. Shortly thereafter,” Mirro explains, “we see Inez (Jessi Nemeth) and her childhood best friend ‘Nasty’ Norca (Sheryl Scott) finally coming to terms with the reason for the last 15 years of silence.
“Rounding out the cast are three additional characters, the bartender (Nicola Lefler), Maria Conchita (Laura Arwood), and Holliegh (Stacie Whitley) who enliven the bar and the streets,” says Julya Mirro.
In addition to director Julya Mirro, who doubles as the show’s set designer, sound designer and lighting designer (with hang and focus by Michael Lefler), the Free Association Theatre Ensemble creative team for Our Lady of 121st Street includes technical director Leslie A. Pless, costume designer Noelle Barnard, properties managers Nicola Lefler and Ellen McCauley, and stage manager Ellen McCauley. The show also features funeral-parlor music recorded by Patrick J. Hawkins.
Director Julya Mirro says the set is “a wide platform which shares three separate spaces: a confessional, the funeral parlor, and Showman’s bar,” and the show’s costumes are “simply based on the actors’ choices for their characters and befitting the fall (season) and purpose of story (attending a funeral).”
In lighting Our Lady of 121st Street, she adds, “We utilize practicals to assist with creating more intimate spaces out of the large platform, and employ specific lighting for each ‘space,’ including three ‘streetlights’ for the benches and outdoor seating/areas.”
Mirro admits, “As a director, I generally prefer simple sets and small spaces, encouraging the audience to be a part of the environment. For this show, we had to consider a larger platform for the set; and that required some creative decisions about lighting, set placement, and audience.”
She notes, “The show runs about 95 minutes without an intermission, and has explicit language and some adult situations. Due to the small house, we encourage reservations. Special discounts can be found on the Facebook Event page.”
The Free Association Theatre Ensemble presents OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET at 8 p.m. Nov. 11, 12, and 17-19 in FATE’s performance space at 267 Grande Heights Dr., Cary, North Carolina 27513, in the Harrison Pointe Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), with additional discounts listed on FATE’s website and Facebook page.
BOX OFFICE: 919-228-8184 or FATEreservations@gmail.com.
The Play: http://dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3223 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books). The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Adly_Guirgis (Wikipedia).
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