WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
Stephen Adly Guigris won the Pulitzer Prize for his play, Between Riverside and Crazy and an earlier title that is often produced is Our Lady of 121st Street now playing at Central New York Playhouse. Although he is noted for his urban landscape and characters of incredible diversity and complexity and great dialogue, plot doesn’t seem to be his forte. This is especially true of Our Lady, which often feels like a series of episodes; interesting conversations, but nevertheless episodes. A play designed like this needs terrific performances and sharp, strong direction to weave things together.
Kudos to director Lynn Barbato King for tackling the play and putting together such a huge diverse cast. This couldn’t have been easy for a community theater. Because it is Community Theater you expect the acting to vary in substance and style especially with such a big cast. But too many scenes lack tension and subtext. Often a character exits a scene in a huff that wasn’t earned. I scratched my head, thinking what just happened. The play is often described as raucous and a comedy, but this production often feels too somber, and rote. The absurdity of the premise in the first scene: a beloved nun teacher’s body is stolen from the casket as well as a mourner’s pants never quite blossoms into the theatrical mayhem promised.
There are some bright spots though. Tony Brown as Rooftop, a former student of Sister Mary Rose is outstanding. A successful morning radio host who comes back to the old neighborhood concerned about running into his past, namely in the form of his ex-wife Inez (Martikah Williams) who hasn’t quite moved on from the acrimonious divorce. Brown is terrific, relaxed, charismatic and always credible. He commands the stage and is a joy to watch. Williams as Inez is also good. She is appropriately buttoned up but underneath can easily cut you with a remark so sharp you will bleed for hours. And it happens so fast you won’t even see it coming.
Joshua King as Edwin has a great physicality and a great stage voice. His character often feels like the voice of the playwright, and lucidly conveys the inner conflict of a character that is stuck taking care of his intellectually challenged brother Pinky (Cory Simon). He has so much responsibility, like the playwright, for all these characters. Brandilyn Kelly as Norca has some fine moments as well. There is an authenticity to her performance; she is someone you could find on 121st street.
A good effort for a play that isn’t easy at the community theater level, but a bit more urgency and velocity would give this production the legs it is looking for.