The charming Nowak family of Buffalo, New York receives a rude awakening in Tom Dudzick’s lighthearted and lightweight 2013 comedy “Miracle on South Division Street,” currently receiving a breezy regional premiere at the Loft Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company.
Strongly Catholic and affectionately Polish, the Nowaks have been tending to their late patriarch’s shrine to the Virgin Mary for decades. Built in 1943, the 17-foot-tall shrine (which Buffalo native Dudzick based on a local legend) was established after Grandpa Nowak had a vision of the Virgin Mary in his barbershop, which now serves as a soup kitchen. The shrine has been an inspirational source of faith, hope and goodwill for the downtrodden city with the likelihood of a miracle not out of the question. However, the Nowaks are completely and humorously thrown for a loop due to a pivotal deathbed confession. As they attempt to make sense of what appeared on the surface to be utterly preposterous, the close-knit family grows to understand the importance of change, growth and tolerance, which all families must face during times of overwhelming joy or nerve-rattling dysfunction.
Director Richard E. Hess, a Buffalo native, coaxes warm authenticity, sprightly energy and a loving rapport from his delightfully compatible four-member cast who are absolutely comfortable within the confines of Eric Moore’s attractively homey kitchen set. As devoted mom Clara, tough yet compassionate, Wendy Barrie-Wilson (marvelous as Sister Aloysius in the Human Race’s 2009 local premiere of “Doubt,” directed by Hess) is a great source of genuine motherly concern, but also supplies funny doses of utter dismay as Clara’s world, particularly the traditions she holds close to her heart, collapses. As eldest daughter Beverly, an underwritten component with a penchant for bowling, Jennifer Joplin (equally radiant in “Doubt” as Sister James) is fittingly agitated and shocked as the big news resonates. As amiable son Jimmy, Kyle Nunn, very appealing and down-to-earth, provides fine comic relief as the only Nowak who couldn’t be more thrilled about the revelation at hand since it ensures a brighter future far more than he imagined. As youngest daughter Ruth, an aspiring actress whose actions propel the play, Lauren Ashley Carter is believably apprehensive yet totally engaging as Ruth brings her family together to announce the various aspects of the secret. Carter also shares a terrifically layered moment with Barrie-Wilson toward the conclusion which refreshingly takes the sitcom-esque proceedings to a deeper emotional plateau.
This “Miracle” takes a while to reveal itself as the amusing diversion it is, but it will make you appreciate the universal commonality of family all the same.
“Miracle on South Division Street” continues through Sept. 21 in the Loft Theatre of the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Tuesday at 7 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. The play is performed in 80 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $27-$45, but discounts are also available. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com or www.humanracetheatre.org.