They stole her body and the pants off a white man: “Our Lady of 121st Street”

image via https://www.facebook.com/LABTheaterCo

Presented by LAByrinth Theater Company
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Elizabeth Rodriguez
Stage Directions read by David Deblinger

Performed on Saturday, May 23 @ 8PM
A Zoom performance

LAByrinth Theater Company
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
New York, NY 10014
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Critique by Kitty Drexel

“Hang on because it’s gonna be dope.” – From the pre-performance speech by Elizabeth Rodriguez.

ZOOM — This production is made available to viewers as a part of LAByrinth Theater Company’s desire to continue existing past the coronavirus pandemic. If you viewed this production and you are able, please donate to LAByrinth Theater. Donate now so theatre can exist later.

Directors must stop apologizing for their Zoom readings. Our Lady of 121st Street’s triumphant director Elizabeth Rodriguez is not the first to apologize to a Zoom audience. If I had my druthers, she would be the last. It’s unfair to the cast and crew who have put so much energy into the performance. Now is not the time to apologize for variables spinning mundanity far beyond our control. There is no set precedent for corona-times streaming theatre.  We’re inventing the genre. Mistakes and minor emergencies are part of the fun of live theatre.

Better to take risks, play them off as good technique, and review notes later than to needlessly apologize before actors have had an opportunity to wow us with their steaming skillz. The audience is, after all, completely ignorant of what is supposed to happen. This basic tenant of our craft puts even the most FUBARed of performances back on their course: pretend everything is fine, don’t let the audience in on the secret, and bow with a big smile at the end. We pretend we’re presenting theatre or we find a new medium for performance. This apologizing for nothing is getting old.

That being said, pre-performance speeches should be written, rehearsed, and timed to under five minutes before a reading. The audience came for storytelling, not for a babbling palaver on the merits of a person, place, or thing most of us will never meet. We know you’re nervous and honored. Please keep it to a minimum just as you would on the lip of the stage to a live audience. If you prepare your speech for a live audience. Please reconsider this choice.

LAByrinth Theater Company’s presentation of Our Lady of 121st Street was good. Rodriguez said that her actors were using script but they looked off-book. They didn’t perform like they were on-book. They developed, concrete characters with clear goals and raw desires. Some of that is inherent in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s excellently descriptive writing, but much credit is due to the fine talents of the cast.

The actors of Our Lady of 121st Street gave life to these emotionally crippled characters with their fathoms-deep flaws. I would expect nothing less of Felix Solis, Lawrence Fishburn, Liza Colón-Zayas, Bobby Cannavale, Elizabeth Canavan, and the rest of the cast.

The story of this play is equal parts depressing. S.A.G. doesn’t shy away from humanity’s most salient of properties. He shines a light on them so even the most pious of individuals can identify with the schmoes fucking their lives away onstage. The actors took hold of that light to guide them into the bodies of their characters so they could in turn slide under our skins.

Please put character names on Zoom callers’ screens. It’s more distracting not to have them. This goes double for actors playing multiple roles. Triple if a character’s name is spoken aloud fewer than three times.

If anyone should apologize, it should be Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of Zoom Video Communications for not already having a software compatible with the theatre communities needs. He and his billion-dollar business should hire the designers of Broadway, off-Broadway and fringe companies to take the software to the next level. We’re doing things with Zoom that his Board of Directors never imagined would be possible.

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