Thursday, December 21, 2006

A stranger on the train remembers theater at Our Lady of Vilnius

While I was celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Vilnius on Broome Street, an SUV was tearing off my passenger side mirror outside the Rectory on Dominick Street. Since my front tire was flat this morning, I decided that it was a good day to bring the car in for repairs and take MetroNorth to work.

As I purchased my ticket from the vending machine, I heard the downtown train depart. I scanned the schedule for the next train and started a conversation with a woman who was heading to Manhattan as well. The thread ran from the schedule of trains to life in our village, to St. Stanislaus Kostka church, to growing up Catholic, to a play she had written, then, to a film she would like to make. She remarked that she had lived in Little Italy at one time, so I mentioned Our Lady of Vilnius.

She was not only familiar with the church, but had designed and built a set for a reading of Estonian poetry organized by Linda Pakri. She seemed to remember the hall very well and described the set and how she constructed it. She reminisced about the power of the poetry and the reverence for nature that the Estonians shared. I told her about the current condition of the church and its plight as well as describing Father Eugene and other denizens of the underground barroom/sanctuary/dreamscape. She seemed happy to revisit this time and place in her past and I was happy to meet someone who took part in this vibrant chapter in the life of Our Lady of Vilnius.

After my first adult visit to the church hall in November, 2004, I started surfing the net to learn more about this mysterious place. There was not much. I felt like a stranger sifting through another family's trunk of keepsakes. A few of the items that I found referred to Linda Pakri and Arts Club Theatre. From one of the pages I learned that she had died in August 2003 after suffering severe burns. Like Aldona Kepalaite, she is another sketchy ghost of Our Lady of Vilnius to whom I feel strangely attached. I never met her, yet I regret her loss.

At a recent meeting about saving the church someone suggested renovating the basement hall. Response to this was very mixed, but I remember Aukse hearkening back to the 1980's and describing the ways in which the room was transformed into anything they wanted it to be.

I am now happy to know someone who participated in one of these transformations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Linda Pakri was my wife, and I have many happy memories of evenings we spent in the basement of Our Lady of Vilnius, organizing performances of plays, poetry, readings, comedy and music. Father Eugene and Father Palubinskas were both marvelous and very welcoming, and for us, it was a chance to be madly creative and have a lot of (relatively) cheap fun at the same time! I'm sorry to see the church is closed now. I miss those wonderful times.

- Paul Robertson