Depending on the circumstances, people are generally inclined either to dread or dream about a school reunion.

Angela Cesere
Corey Dorris as Rooftop confesses to J. Patrick Rourke as Father Lux. (Photos Courtesy of Peter Smith Photography)
Angela Cesere
Sharif Nasr as Balthazar and Katie Johnson as Norca.

If this reunion takes place during the funeral of a former teacher whose corpse has gone missing, dread will undoubtedly take precendence. The characters in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “Our Lady 121st Street” assemble at the funeral of their beloved elementary school teacher and rehash the not-yet forgotten in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance’s beguiling production and season opener.

“Our Lady of 121st Street” premiered last weekend and resumes this weekend at the Walgreen Drama Center.

The playwright’s characters were a draw for John Neville-Andrews, a theater professor and the show’s director.

“They way the characters speak is fascinating: They’re violent in their words, but it’s a coverup,” Neville-Andrews said. “Underneath, they’re actually very emotional characters.”

The play achieves an emotional connection between character and audience through an intimate, minimalist stage. The backdrop is made of simple high-rises, and only three different sets are used. It seems Neville-Andrews wished to make the characters the main aesthetic, and their costumes, rather cliché, emphasize the rough-exterior yet impassioned-interior dynamic.

Theatre Performance senior Katie Johnston stars as Norca, whose costume and demeanor embody the standard depiction of the inner-city Latina. She wears the hoops, exposes the midriff and isn’t wary of challenging anyone to a duel. The character would be a stereotype if it wasn’t for the texture underneath. Sure, she thrashes about on stage in black fishnets and white heels, proclaims she’d rather talk about “fun stuff’ when conversation becomes geared toward the deceased and enters the stage toward the end of the play far from sober. But what unrepressed, grieving person wouldn’t?

In that vein, as much as “121st Street” bites with dark comedy, it also has moments of simplistic honesty. The characters are as charming as they are uncouth. The expletives they violently utter – often Tarantinian in frequency – don’t exist without a sense of each character’s torment. The actors seemed to master this nuanced dialogue, particularly Theatre sophomore Corey Dorris, who plays Rooftop.

Dressed in garb that could be described as ’70s street-pimp chic, Rooftop attempts to leave his showy Los Angeles radio DJ persona behind to attend the funeral. His latent goal, though, is to reunite with his ex-wife whose heart he broke many years ago. During a confessional, his inability to separate his boisterous fa

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