The stage is set, the lighting is in position, and the actors all bustle backstage preparing for the show. Everything is fine-tuned for the night in which the curtain will rise and laughter will ensue. Actors have remembered their lines and costumes have been fitted. After hours upon hours of preparation, nothing has been overlooked—well, maybe one thing. Where exactly is Sister Rose’s body?
That’s the question Seattle University’s winter play “Our Lady of 121st Street,” by Stephen Aldy Guirgis will answer. The play centers around a group of former Harlem Catholic school students brought together to mourn the death of their recently deceased ex-teacher, Sister Rose. However, as they all gather inside the Ortiz Funeral room, it becomes apparent that someone has stolen the body. The play focuses around the many interactions between the mourners as they wait for her proper return. Whether they are meeting each other for the first time or catching up, the character’s distinct personalities are gradually revealed in this modern, dark comedy that delivers a fresh look into Seattle University’s theater department.
“Our Lady of 121st Street” delivers much more than just a humorous search for a nun’s missing body. It features relatable, diverse characters dealing with pain and inner conflict.
“They kind of just unfold these private areas of their lives. Everybody deals with hurt, everybody deals with pain and everybody deals with wanting to be loved, wanting to be accepted. So, they all represent these different amazing beautiful qualities,” said Natasha Wanigatunga, a Seattle University theater major who
The play shifts perspectives throughout, revealing each character’s inner workings and conflicts. The characters each portray strong emotions in interesting ways that engross the viewer. The play features a superintendent caring for his mentally disabled brother, a woman with a rocky family background, an amputee war veteran who is also a priest and doubts his calling and a radio Disk Jockey who cheated on his wife. Each character tries to work through their own problems and those problems create complexities and connections between characters.
“It’s kind of a story about people who feel a bit out of place and they all have a sense of loneliness one way or another. They connect with each other through their loneliness and they clash with each other through that same loneliness; and I think that’s a big part of what the play is about,” said Connor Fogarty, a senior theatre and psychology double major who plays Father Lux.
Special guest director Jane Nichols is helping to make this play stand out from former Seattle U productions. Nichols has an impressive portfolio having worked at both Juilliard and Yale.
Seattle U cast members have enjoyed her mentoring.
“She encourages us. A lot of theater is [us] making fools of ourselves and that’s okay, that’s what makes the audience love us,” Fogarty said.
Wanigatunga mirrored his thoughts on Nichols. Both have thought that Nichols’ advice may be important as they move forward in their studies. Her teachings have helped the cast create stronger connections with one another.
“This has been one of the best experiences of my life! She’s all about just having fun, because if you’re not having fun the audience isn’t having fun,” Wanigatunga said. “What is going on with this person that you’re with, that you’re acting with, that you’re onstage with. Be their friend, be there for them, catch them if they fall, they will catch you when you fall.”
The advice has come at a good time. As part of holding such a diverse play the theatre department found itself in need of many actors and actresses to fill the cast list. This means the play will showcase actors new to the theatre department and new to the stage. Both Wanigatunga and Fogarty noted that this is a time of great growth in the department and they hope this will be apparent to the audience.
This diversity and modern humor of the play are what the theatre department hopes will draw audiences. Sophomore Julia Cordero, a student planning to see the production, noted that both of these ideas are what piqued her interest in the production.
“There is a very diverse cast and personally as a woman of color that’s what I’m super excited about, because there isn’t a noticeable amount of diversity yet at Seattle U,” Cordero said. “I heard there would be a lot of swearing which I think is pretty funny.”
The play will run from Feb. 18-28.
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