UI Theater main season opens with Our Lady of 121st Street

The first of the main shows from the University of Iowa’s Department of Theater to return fully in person since the coronavirus shut down much of the live theater, the funny and witty play “Our Lady of 121st Street” will be held at the EC Mabie Theater over the next few weeks.

Dimia Burrell

Play Our Lady of 121st St. at the dress rehearsal in the University of Iowa Theater building on October 5, 2021. Our Lady of 121st St. is a dark comedy play centered around reuniting old friends.

After 18 months of being unable to organize fully in-person performances on the main stage, the EC Mabie Theater opens its doors to audiences eager to see the theater live again – this time with the play, Our Lady of 121st Street.

The play begins after a group of Harlem students learn of the death of their former teacher, Sister Rose. Students return to their hometowns to pay homage and honor the life of their much feared and beloved teacher. After coming to 121st Street in Harlem, New York to attend her funeral, however, Sister Rose’s body goes missing and the students also have to deal with the loss of her physical body and overcome the differences in their individual lives.

Our Lady of 121st Street begins Friday, under the direction of Mary Beth Easley, who is chair of the drama department and chief director. Easley described the play as a way to bring all of Iowa City’s diverse communities together – the play features white, Latino / o / x, black, and disabled character voices to accurately reflect Harlem’s diversity.

“It’s also a play about advancement and redemption,” Easley said. “I think a lot of what we’ve been through over the last year and a half, we all feel like we need to move on and release the trauma we’ve been through.”

COVID-19 has effectively shut down many theaters, and the drama industry as a whole, across the world for some time. Easley said her graduate students had scholarships and internships that were canceled entirely, although she believes all theater students know how to adapt to the changes.

“I was complete [for] the next seven to eight months. I knew what I was doing on the shows and it all stopped, ”said Katie Gucik, UI MFA freshman actress. “It was that big question of ‘When can we be in person again, doing what we love? “”

Gucik said she cried when she entered the theater for the first time and was on stage again after 18 long months. As this is one of the IU’s first live theater productions since COVID-19, Gucik said she felt grateful to be a part of Our Lady of 121st Street.

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Gucik plays the role of Marcia, Sister Rose’s niece. She has described her character as a stranger to the rest of the cast because she is a relative rather than a student. The play alludes to the fact that Marcia is the only member of Sister Rose’s family, so she must be there as a next of kin, Gucik said.

Dakari Harleston, an undergraduate drama student at UI, stars as Flip. He said his character’s struggles run deeper and more internal than some of the others, since Flip is a locked-in gay man who viewed Sister Rose as a mother figure.

Our Lady of 121st Street is Harleston’s first performance on the main stage. He said learning about the director and the graduate students in the play helped him grow into the actor he is today. However, he added, the experience itself was a big learning curve.

“I can’t wait to see the different reactions and look into the crowd and see the energy that’s going to be there,” Harleston said. “I am really very happy to have this experience and this opportunity to be here.

Gucik said the connection between the audience and the cast is not the same when the theater is not live, and she is thrilled to have a reconnection.

“I think [the audience] should look forward to recognizing themselves on stage, ”said Gucik. “And to be transported to this world to be really immersed in the world of these characters.”

Our Lady of 121st Street is written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Performances will begin on Friday October 8 and end on October 16 at the EC Mabie Theater. Tickets can be purchased at the Hancher ticket office.

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