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Reviews

Our Lady of 121st Street

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The LAByrinth Theater Company production presented by John Gould Rubin, Ira Pittelman, Robyn Goodman, Ruth Hendel, Daryl Roth, casting by Bernard Telsey Casting, at the Union Square Theatre, 100 E. 17 St., NYC. Opened March 6 for an open run.

Inez (Portia) is dreading the moment when she must look her ex-husband in the eye again. Her ex-husband (Ron Cephas Jones), now a successful radio personality, has found a priest and is confessing decades of sin. Norca (Liza Colón-Zayas) wants to settle an old grudge, Victor (Richard Petrocelli) wakes up without his pants, and the corpse is gone.

Welcome to "Our Lady of 121st Street" and Sister Rose's funeral, a laugh-aloud, savor-the-phrasing comedy by Stephen Adly Guirgis. And while you are enjoying the collisions of these ragtag eccentrics who are paying a last tribute to their dead teacher, you may discover that their stories have worked their way into your heart.

Reunion plays are a much overdone genre, but "Our Lady" is different—in its level of honesty and its unashamed exaggerations, all in the service of good comedy. Guirgis has stripped away these characters' conventional courtesies and self-control until we are left with their naked feelings, fears, and neuroses. Take Marcia (Elizabeth Canavan), Sister Rose's niece. Within minutes, she and a stranger (David Zayas) have become physically entangled. "Are you touching my breast?" she asks. "That was by accident," he protests. And she cries with disappointment. Sure, it's funny, but the tears are also her longing for romance. Later, in rising hysteria, she screams all her allergies out to him like an attack, confessing why she feels relationships are doomed. And, miraculously, he hears her and makes an offer—but he has his own impossibilities.

This is delicious, and the performances are on the right side of controlled hysteria. Under the direction of the very able Philip Seymour Hoffman (a founding member of LAByrinth Theater Company), the actors never let on that the characters are anything but real. And therein lie the humor and the pathos of a play that has brightened a bleak season in its transfer to the Off-Broadway Union Square Theatre.

For more reviews, see the Back Stage website at www.backstage.com.

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