Hello Examiner Readers:
I am one of the actors in this production, so I asked Corey Leis to be a guest reviewer for the Long Beach Acting Examiner, since I could not write an outside review from the audience perspective. Here is the preview article that I wrote before opening. The following review is wholly attributed to Corey Leis.
Long Beach Acting Examiner
When She’s Gone: CSULB Shares the Love with Our Lady of 121st Street
by Corey Leis
Something beautiful is happening in CSU Long Beach’s Players Theatre. Under the direction of a theatrical virtuoso, a diverse group of twelve actors lovingly and energetically transport their audience into the heart of New York City, on 121st Street, where they stitch their story together like a quilt.
Edgar Landa, a man who’s making himself an indelible thread in CSULB’s Theatre Arts department, is back to direct Our Lady of 121st Street, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. “[It’s] about redemption,” Landa believes, “forgiveness and acceptance–themes that are always relevant regardless of the time.” The play is, indeed, steeped in these themes. Told in two acts, Guirgis’s deftly-written piece is a series of scenes. These scenes serve as the blocks of the quilt that the actors expertly sew together with attention and poignancy. After nearly two decades of absence and separation, the group of characters are gathered together to mourn the loss of their beloved Sister Rose, a momentous figure in many of the characters’ childhoods. Her body turns up missing from the funeral home, however, forcing the characters to grapple with their whisking emotions and each other in this dark comedy.
Carolina Montenegro, who plays Sonia in the show, explains that the play is not necessarily about the plot; rather, it is about the relationships between the characters and the connection they share with each other through Sister Rose. Although it is an ensemble piece, there is never a moment when all twelve actors are on stage at the same time. However, it is made ever apparent that the actors took great care in creating their relationships with each other, and what appears in their performance is the actors’ love of their characters and their work. This is the first appearance in a University Players mainstage show for many of the actors, but one wouldn’t guess it based on the strength of their performance. Each actor exhibited a command over his or her character and the language of the play. Landa was an invaluable agent in helping the cast develop its command. “Edgar was really supportive throughout the whole process,” explains Ryan Phillips (Pinky). As Matt Craig (Balthazar) points out, so much of a play’s success depends on how well it is cast; Will Nicol (Victor) echoes the unanimous sentiment among the actors of the show: “Everyone was cast perfectly.” From the first read-through, the cast recalls, everything felt right.
The design of the show is equally strong. The set, designed by Marc Nicolas, gorgeously complements the action of the play and aids in conveying the themes of which Landa speaks. Primarily made up of suitcases and trunks, the set highlights the transitional stage these characters are navigating. Just as each scene is an individual square joined together to make a unified quilt, as it were, the suitcases are individual objects that are moved around, opened and closed, pushed and stacked together to create the different locations of the play. Paige Stanley sheds some light on the subject with her warm lighting design, and the actors looked stunning due to Jaime Maxwell’s costumes and Miki Loeser’s make-up design.
“I hope [the audience sees],” explains Landa, “a recognition of the uniqueness of their own faults, vices and imperfections as human beings.” Ultimately, the show succeeds in its endeavor. The qualities the characters embody are relatable and decidedly human. The myriad character types, from the nasty to the jaded to the mentally disabled, demonstrate what it means to be human. The University Players, with their love and care, show us how to negotiate the streets of humanity–and that we’re all trying to keep warm under the same patchwork quilt.
Our Lady of 121st Street closes Sunday, 5 December. General admission tickets are $15, while student and senior tickets are $12 (with valid ID). For more information regarding the show, visit www.csulb.edu/depts/theatre or call 562.985.5526.
Corey’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 masks.
Corey Leis studies English and Theatre Arts at California State University, Long Beach and writes for the Union Weekly.