by Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo by Tim Fuller
Shocking news surprises the Nowak family (from left) Beverly (Alida Holguin Gunn), Clara (Toni Press-Coffman), Jimmy (Seth Fowler) and Ruth (Carley Elizabeth Preston).
A lovely warm-up for an ecumenical holiday season is found at Invisible Theatre in its sprightly production of “Miracle on South Division Street” by Tom Dudzick. Not to be confused with Kris Kringle’s Christmas shopping “Miracle on 34th Street,” this miracle of a much different kind is set in Buffalo, New York, in 2010.
Gail Fitzhugh directs a tightly knit cast of four to deliver plenty of laughs while reminding us that family devotion will always be more important than religious differences. Anyone who grew up back east will recognize the spot-on characterizations in three generations of the Nowak clan of Polish-American Catholics who staked their claim to the New World just before World War II.
First, we are reminded how urban blight has taken its toll on the once prosperous upstate city of Buffalo. Clara (Toni Press-Coffman) has grown up in this house on this street where her deceased father ran a barber shop for 60 years.
Back in 1942, Clara’s grandfather was visited by the Virgin Mary shortly after he opened his Buffalo barbershop. To honor this occasion, he had a statue of the Holy Mother erected on the spot. Although the Church has refused to recognize this miracle, Clara has become the keeper of its flame.
Her grown children – angry Beverly (Alida Holguin Gunn), bitter Ruth (Carley Elizabeth Preston) and genial Jimmy (Seth Fowler) – have not embraced their grandfather’s shrine with any particular devotion, which only increases Clara’s determination to keep the faith.
As the neighborhood has deteriorated, the shrine has become ever more important to Clara. Her sincerity and her dizzy grasp of current events are portrayed with smiling sympathy, even as Ruth and Beverly seem to lose patience with their mom.
Jimmy, the youngest, is the typical little brother in his 20s who always tries to keep balance in the family. All this interplay makes “Miracle on South Division Street” a wonderful ensemble piece that just becomes more buoyant the more complications set in.
Performed in 90 minutes without an intermission, once all the characters have established their identities, Ruth kicks over this house of traditional beliefs with her news of a deathbed confession that rattles this family to the core, but in a humorous way that has a happy ending.
“Miracle On South Division Street” continues through Nov. 24 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, plus 4 p.m. Saturday Nov. 23, at the Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
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