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Miracle on South Division Street
a Comedy/Drama
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Tom Dudzick

COMPANY : Stage Door Players [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Stage Door Players [WEBSITE]
ID# 4567

SHOWING : March 21, 2014 - April 13, 2014

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

In this comedy/drama, we meet the Nowak family, living amidst the urban rubble of Buffalo, NY’s East Side. Clara, the family matriarch, runs her soup kitchen and tends to the family heirloom - a twenty-foot shrine to the Blessed Mother which adjoins the house, commemorating the day in 1942 when the Blessed Virgin Mary materialized in her father’s barber shop. When daughter Ruth divulges her plan to finally “go public" with the family miracle by creating a one-woman play about the sacred event, the entire family’s faith is shaken to the very core when a deathbed confession causes the family legend to unravel.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Dina Shadwell
Beverly Kara Cantrell
Ruth Kelly Criss
Jimmy Tony Larkin
Clara Susan Shalhoub Larkin
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REVIEWS

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A Miracle Indeed
by playgoer
Monday, April 14, 2014
5.0
"Miracle on South Division Street," in its production at Stage Door Players, is one of those rare productions in which cast, direction, and script meld into one perfect whole. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, intriguing, and heartfelt creation, with an unspoken tie to the Holocaust that makes the story resonate even after the show is over.

Chuck Welcome’s set design looks intentionally dated, with its kitchen decor perhaps approaching fashionable decades before. The aluminum trim on the kitchen countertops looks a bit artificial and the empty space in the kitchen is on the overwhelming side, but otherwise the set convinces us that we’re in a home on South Division Street in Buffalo, New York. Jane Kroessig’s costumes and John David Williams’ lighting reinforce that idea. Hampton Whatley’s props are generally good, except for a pristine chromed toaster that is supposed to be decades old. Rial Ellsworth’s sound design masks the scene change transition ably.

It’s not the production values that impress most, however. It’s the acting. Susan Shalhoub Larkin is perfection as matriarch Clara Nowack. Every glance and gesture is meaningful, with one of the heartiest laughs in the show coming from her stunned, deadpan face looking straight out and slowly tracking across the audience. Her real-life son, Tony Larkin, also gets hearty laughs from his declamation of lines that in isolation would appear to be innocuous, but in context encapsulate moments of delight. His generosity of spirit as Jimmy brings heart to the show.

Kelly Criss plays Ruth, a would-be actress who wishes to turn her family’s story into a one-woman show. The story she wants to tell, though, isn’t the party line version of a vision of the Blessed Virgin inspiring the statue outside her late grandfather’s barber shop. As the most earnest and "vanilla" of the Nowack family, Ruth is burdened with most of the straightforward exposition of the show. Ms. Criss does a fine job in her role, but it’s just not as flashy as the other roles.

Kara Cantrell, on the other hand, plays sister Beverly as a force of nature. She comes in strong, stays strong, and goes out strong. There are touches in her performance that have the flavor of the impromptu -- adding beer to the soup simmering on the stove; following a rude gesture with a hastily performed sign of the cross. These moments may be in the script, but they’re performed so in keeping with the character that they delight.

With so many delightful moments in the show, the contribution of the director cannot be minimized. These may be wonderful actors with lots of talent, but their performances have been managed with expertise by director Dina Shadwell to create a moving, funny, exhilaratingly enjoyable production. When a show flies by from start to finish with just the right ebb and flow of movement, emotion, and motivation, the director needs to be lauded.

This show has a lot in common with ART Station’s recent "Making God Laugh." Both deal with a highly Catholic family with three children, with a daughter’s romantic life held in emotional limbo until the end of the show. The plots aren’t at all similar, but their parent-child interplay and their hearts beat with the same rhythm and resonance. It’s wonderful to see these entertaining, family-affirming productions showing up on area stages this season. They do what plays need to do -- draw the audience into their world from the first moment, not releasing them until the final bows have been taken.

There have been some terrific plays performed at various Atlanta-area venues in the first few months of this year, but I have to say that "Miracle on South Division Street" is the best I’ve seen so far. It’s that perfect blend of acting, timing, and script that lets you know you’ve been in the hands of a masterful director for the 90-some minutes of the running time.
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