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‘Our Lady of 121st Street’ brings laughs

Dark, hilarious, touching and perpetually profane, “Our Lady of 121st Street,” presented by the University Players, looks at the lives of a dozen assorted characters as they reunite for the funeral of Sister Rose, whose body was stolen from the church. 

The play, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, begins with a series of unconnected scenes, which are united by the recent death of Sister Rose. These short episodic scenes are some of the funniest and best-acted pieces the University Players have ever produced. The energy they are able to pour into the brief vignettes is nothing short of spectacular. Whether it’s the man whose grief overshadows his lack of pants, the man who forgets he’s in a confession booth as he lights up his joint or the catfight that arises from a case of mistaken identity, the players come through with full effectiveness. 

Through the use of such short scenes, which sometimes seem like the living embodiment of jokes, nothing ever becomes stale. Even some of the longer scenes are broken up in such a way that it’s exciting to see their continuation and conclusion.

“Our Lady” is the definition of an ensemble play with each character matching another in force and style. However, some of the more compelling characters manage to claw their way into your heart and, like a trainwreck, you find yourself unable to look away. 

 Ashley Allen plays Marcia, the high-strung niece of Sister Rose. Dressed in a black dress that is slightly risqué for a funeral, Allen is reminiscent of a piece of barbed wire pulled too tightly. The manic look in her eyes balances ever so finely between someone who could either fly into a rage or burst into tears. 

Leading man, Ian Randolph, is both comical and dramatic. Randolph brings life to the successful screw-up named Rooftop. It is his character that decides to confess his sins after more than 30 years and can’t seem to decide where to start. He gives money to his mentally challenged friend and offers a priest a hit off his joint. Randolph has an odd charisma that requires you to watch him at all times, even when he’s just sitting.

Wonderfully out of place is Carolina Montenegro who, as far as the play goes, plays the relatively normal Sonia from Connecticut. Montenegro’s choice to play Sonia as a relatively muted and reserved character sometimes makes you forget she’s there among all the insanity of other characters. However her gift is in her silence, for when she does speak, every word is comic gold, even if it isn’t meant to be.

Particularly effective in this show is the set with its electrically controlled votive candles that depict religious figures and illuminate the set and control the mood. The rest of the set is a combination of luggage and an ominous brown wooden casket, which sits empty, covered by a blanket. Clever changes in the lighting and musical transitions between scenes help to cleanse the palate and prepare the audience for a new slice of the players’ personal lives, adding to the overall effectiveness of the play.

“Our Lady of 121st Street” runs at the Cal State Long Beach Players Theatre until Dec. 5. 


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