OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Jonah Allison (Column 13). At Alchemy Theatre (133 Tecumseth). To November 10. $12-$15. 416-732-7786. Rating: NNN
The late sister rose has been friend, teacher and comforter to the people who populate Our Lady Of 121st Street. At the top of the show, her body has disappeared from a New York City funeral parlour.
What follows in Stephen Adly Guirgis's sharp-edged play isn't so much a mystery - who did it and why - but rather character sketches of figures who are needy, lonely and trying to connect with those around them. Scabrously funny, the series of short, seemingly unrelated scenes becomes a tough, unsentimental study in violence both threatened and carried out.
Our Lady is the second Guirgis play produced by Column 13 Actors Company in the past year, and while not everything works, the troupe's developing a voice for this kind of gritty comedy/drama.
Under director Jonah Allison, the first act is bumpy, with stop-and-start rhythms that limit the action and the characters' emotional strength. It's only after intermission that the director and most performers smooth out the pace, presenting episodes that grow in expressive truth. The result is a finale that makes good use of Guirgis's powerful writing to touch a sensitive dramatic nerve.
Watch, for instance, how quick- and smooth-talking DJ Rooftop (Richard Stewart) wins over the despairing Father Lux (Luis Fernandes) in a confessional booth, or how gay couple Flip (Brendon Smith) and Gail (Andrew Badali) argue over which of them is more masculine. Jennifer McEwen steals scenes as the angry, razor-tongued Norca, who's broken up at least one marriage.
Angela Hanes creates a two-edged Marcia, alternately pushing others away and trying to make nice to them, while Amy Lee admirably underplays the comic Sonia, who never quite understands anything that's happening around her.
Column 13 is still a young company, growing and learning. Right now its productions are mixed in quality, but Toronto theatregoers should be thankful to the group for presenting the work of one of New York's hottest writers. Here's one case where 13 is a lucky number.