By Sandi Durell
You’ll have to go an extra mile to keep up with the raging, ranting characters, all former students of the fierce and alcoholic Sister Rose whose funeral they’ve all come to attend in Harlem. The only problem is that Sister Rose’ body has been absconded with, as have the pants worn by Victor (John Procaccino) who has some classic four letter words to express his high emotions about how he sees the world. But these are words that you’ll become accustomed to hearing throughout Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play revival at the Signature Theaters in this all too funny, poignant and earthy story about the down-trodden. Guirgis wins the trophy for profanity if you recall his well received Pulitizer Prize winning Between Riverside and Crazy, The Mother F….ker With the Hat, and most recent Jesus Hopped the A Train.
The play unfolds in scenic play-lettes, each character given his and her just due, individually or in small groups, as we meet Balthazar (Joey Auzenne), an inebriated NYC police detective, who has emptied the funeral parlor investigating the crime scene; all the mourners forced to wait elsewhere. Meet raucous L.A. deejay Rooftop (Hill Harper), dressed to the nines, finally deciding he needs to confess to the local Priest, Father Lux, (John Doman),whose got his own pretty heavy duty issues to deal with, as Rooftop tries to assuage his guilt about leaving his now ex-wife Inez (a larger than life, tell it like it is tough Quincy Tyler Bernstine). The confession goes on and on and on, as Father Lux keeps reminding Rooftop it’s a confessional not a ‘conversational.’
Attending the funeral is a young gay, still in the closet, attorney Flip (Jimonn Cole) from Wisconsin and his lover Gail (Kevin Isola) who thinks he’s an actor but when asked to act straight, does a really lousy job, not fooling anyone. There’s Norca (Paola Lazaro), a real nut case druggie and everyone’s sex toy who’s itching to fight anyone, especially Sonia (Dierdre Friel), an interloper from Connecticut who somehow wandered into these proceedings and has no connection to anyone.
Each of the characters are rich and ripe as they eagerly and easily throw themselves out into the unknown, unafraid and ready for battle, insults flying. They have no idea, nor do they care, how they act or react.
Meet Sister Rose’s niece Marcia (Stephanie Kurtzuba), an asthmatic, allergic to smoke and much more who gives an award-winning performance hacking away until the loveable, caring Edwin (Erick Betancourt), a building super, comes to her aid causing an amorous spark that quickly fades when the reality of their divergent lives emerges. Edwin takes care of this mentally challenged, mostly happy brother Pinky (Maki Borden), who wound up as such at a young age when Edwin threw a brick out a window that landed on Pinky’s head. But even Edwin loses his cool, affable persona when Pinky disappears for 16 hours just going around the corner to get some Yodels and instead gets caught up in Norca’s web.
This is wacky-ville like you’ve never seen it as director Phylicia Rashad takes the reins and willingly lets go allowing her cast to fly untethered. Will Spangler has created the various vignette scenic design while Keith Parham lights them up, showing off Alexis Forte’s high-colored costumes.
Be prepared for the unexpected and enjoy the ride! Guirgis is a genius when it comes to dark irreverent comedy.
Photos: Monique Carboni
Our Lady of 121stStreet at the Diamond Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42 Street NYC. Run time: 2 hrs with intermission thru June 17.