TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – Every family has its secrets. The Nowacks of Buffalo, New York, have a doozer.
How it comes to light is the story of “Miracle on South Division Street,” a warm-hearted play that The Forst Inn Arts Collective is presenting for five more performances.
Don’t ask why playwright Tom Dudzick hid the family secret for years and years. There otherwise wouldn’t be a play that delights in exploring family love, faith and storytelling.
Veteran director Claran LaViolette and her cast hit a rhythm with the colorful characters of the squabbling Nowacks – the mother, Clara, and her three grown children – Beverly, Jimmy and Ruth. The players embrace their characters, and together the performers exude commitment. More simply, the production feels good.
Grandfather Nowack started things off by saying the vision of Our Lady came to him in his barbershop in 1942, urging that the fighting of the war stop, and he then had a statue built. The Nowack family then nurtured the “miracle” and set up a soup kitchen on “hallowed ground,” with the soup seeming to have healing properties. The faithful would drop a few coins in a can. And on and on the Nowack legacy went, now with mother, Clara, holding firm to the story and her Catholic faith.
Tom Dudzick subtly weaves humor through the byplay in the family. Along the way, much is brought up about religion – not going to Mass and dating outside of the faith, along with holding vice-grip firm to beliefs brought up with.
The audience knows some secrets are being kept from the mother. The daughter, Beverly, is sitting on a big one for which the family has gathered for a meeting. I’m trying to avoid spoiler alerts in this review.
One-liners are dropped like raindrops at the start of a spring shower:
“Isn’t knowing the truth better?” fits a tense moment with ironic humor.
The die-hard Beverly has a beauty: “It’s not supposed to make sense. It’s religion!”
Surprises pop up like deer in headlights on a hairpin turn. Ruth has a wagonload, with one being of gross dismay but wonderful illumination. Tom Dudzick is able to pull that off, and thus “Miracle on South Division Street” is something of a writing miracle in itself.
Ann Wolf is the faith-bound, loving mother hen, Clara, who fusses over her chicks.
Jake Jaquart, who has a way of adding visual details, is the practical Jimmy, who is gliding around a major secret.
Kate Koubaddy is Beverly, a big believer, both in matters of church and bowling. Her major concern when all the cats are out of the bag at the end is how is she going to be able to bowl that night?
Corrie Skubal is Ruth, who gives up secrets like a dentist trying to pull teeth with a tweezer. When each is finally pulled, it’s “Wow!”
This probably has not been said often: An ordinary kitchen makes a cool set. The Nowacks are regular folks, and Clara’s kitchen is just-right regular with sink, refrigerator, table, dishware, stove, entrance door and décor, with a hint of the statue outside the window.
Prior to the performance, the music more than hints what the show is about, including “If Only You Believe” in smooth jazz, “Pocketful of Miracles” in perky standard style and “I Got My Hands on a Miracle” in contemporary rock.
The production is taking place with the audience limited to 25 due to coronavirus restrictions. The capacity is ninetysomething in the first place.
But as Michael Sheeks, the equivalent of artistic director of the venue, said on preview night Thursday, “We are excited to be doing anything.”
Creative: Playwright – Tom Dudzick; director – Claran LaViolette; scenic design – Roger Bennin; technical direction – Edward Nitro Barta; stage build – Paul Hacker, Ella Susedik
Jimmy Nowack – Jake Jaquart
Beverly Nowack – Kate Koubaddy
Ruth Nowack – Corrie Skubal
Clara Nowack – Ann Wolf
Running time: One hour, 45 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11-12, 18-19 and 2 p.m. Sept. 20
Restrictions due to coronavirus: Mask requirement, social distancing, limit on audience size