Move over 34th Street. There is a new miracle in town, and it’s in “Miracle on South Division Street,” playing at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre.
The Nowaks are a traditional Polish-American, Catholic family living in Buffalo, NY, who just happen to have a 20-foot shrine of the Virgin Mary in their yard.
On Christmas Eve, family members are busy in their everyday tasks: preparing a cheese platter, fixing a toaster and making soup. What begins as a routine family meeting escalates into an unearthing of family secrets that had the audience groaning in frustration and anticipation.
Matriach Clara (Elizabeth Dimon), and her daughters Ruth (Deborah L. Sherman), Beverly (Jeni Hacker) and son Jimmy (Clay Cartland), have all grown up hearing the miracle of the Virgin Mother’s appearance in her father’s barbershop in 1947. Clara, a devout Catholic, has clung to her father’s story, and prides herself on running a soup kitchen on “holy ground,” complete with a commemorative statue.
However, Clara’s world comes catapulting down when she discovers the famed miracle is not what she believed. The monotony of their day-to-day is shattered when a deathbed confession shakes their faith in the family heirloom.
The story unfolded in a simple set – a kitchen that was last updated in the ’70s, paralleling a town that had seen the last of its glory days. The kitchen, so often referred to as the “heart of the home” was where this family was challenged to heart-felt conversations by Ruth’s bombshell discovery. The simplicity of the set and staging emphasized the characters and the family’s dynamic.
As the catalyst of the play, Ruth (Sherman) is the one to discover her family’s past may not be exactly as believed. In Ruth is a character whose desire to be something more has mixed with the realization that life is full of disappointments. She manages to be a three-dimensional character while being straight-laced and filled with aspirations.
Clara (Dimon) is the irrefutable rock of the family and the cast. This kind but stern mother, who would just as soon smack someone behind the ear as give him a hug, was in danger of falling into the realm of an opulent cliché. However, Dimon grounded Clara by balancing her outrageous beliefs with her unsettling flaws, bringing authenticity to absurdly hilarious moments.
As Beverly (Hacker) enters the scene, she brings with her a surge of energy – the match needed to turn kindle into fire. Her emotions and true-to-life tone forced the pace of the scene into a gallop, trying to keep up with her sharp delivery.
Jimmy (Clay Cartland) was the predictable comedic relief spitting out one-liners to keep the audience from going mad with anticipation. His timing sold the jokes and solidified his role as the “little brother” anyone would have in their family.
The cast’s interactions and relatable dialogue made it seem like the Nowaks have been bickering and teasing each other for years: Clara asks Ruth why she has not been attending mass consistently, Beverly bothers Jimmy about dating a Jewish girl, and Ruth tries to be heard over the noise to begin her meeting.
These genuine performances were at the heart of why the audience could feel it related to this wildly fantastic tale. The dialogue, written by Tom Dudzick, was set up to be familial by straddling the line between caring and quarreling.
However, the cast imbued this wide array of emotions with familiarity. “Miracle on South Division Street” was filled with many twists and turns, and the cast steered audience members along on this miraculous journey that tested everyone’s faith.
IF YOU GO
Where: Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Miles, Coral Gables, Fla. 33134
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays
The theatre offers $15 student rush tickets 15 minutes prior to curtain with identification.