By Tom Dudzick
Directed by William Pullinsi
At The Theatre at the Center, Munster
Incredulous plot strains the comic effect of Dudzick’s latest play
Tom Dudzick, who penned the long running hit comedy, Over the Tavern, returns to his Buffalo, New York roots with another 60’s oriented Catholic based blue collar comedy. This Miracle On South Division Street is a lumbering, narrative driven comedy with a strong sit-com feel.
Set in Buffalo, New York, we meet the Polish-American very Catholic Nowak clan led by the 70 + Clara (Marilyn Bogetich) who controls her siblings with a potent combination of mother’s guilt with sprinkles of Catholic guilt.
There is the son, Jimmy (Joe Popp), a garbarage collector, Bev (Erin Noel Grennan), a ketchup bottler and fanatic bowler and Ruth (Adria Dawn), a struggling actress.
After a long series of introductory scenes, we realize these zealous religious ignorant folks are long on bigotry as they naively accept the main premise of the play: that their grandfather, in 1943 had a vision from the Blessed Mother while working in his barbershop that lead to him have a twenty foot statue in front of the show to commemorate and offer hope the poor Buffalo folks.
Somehow, the family has kept the statue and the donation box in shape without ever questioning the veracity of grandpa’s story. The coins added up and Clara simply accepted her father’s story as she passed on her belief to her children. The kids act as ‘barkers’ speaking to folks who wonder around the statue or come to Clara’s free soup kitchen now housed in the former barbershop. The shrine is the family’s cottage industry that is fueled on blind faith or sheer ignorance.
When Jimmy wants to announce his engagement to a Jewish girl he fears his mother’s wrath due to her ant-antisemitism and rigid Catholicism.
But when Ruth calls a family meeting to discus the stature sparks fly as she plans to “to public” with the truth behind the statue by creating a one-woman play about the vision, Clara and Bev go crazy while Jimmy is open minded.
Act two, finds this comedy’s plot twists, while shocking, more believable than the vision tale. The family legend unravels causing Clara and Bev to question their beliefs as to both the legend and their Catholic faith.
Along this quirky journey there are some laughs but when the ‘truth’ of the origin of the statue and grandpa’s past in Poland is revealed (I’ll not spoil that), the entire bases if the family causes chaos leading to the most preposterous plot twist. If you found out that you family was something different than what you thought, i.e. ethnicity and religion, would you simply abandon your lifelong beliefs and embrace your new found ancestry? I doubt it.
That is another flaw in this contrived play. I think Tom Dudzick has gone to the well of blue collar Catholic folks once too often as this work seems too contrived. The characters are not likable enough for us to care about as their ignorance and gullibility strains us. The curious blocking that finds characters with their backs to most of the audience was irritating. The acting was fine despite Marilyn Bogetich’s tendency to dominate some scenes. There are some laughs in this kitchen-sink family comedy but act one needs to be trimmed into a one act show. Those who like family light-weight comedies will find enough laughs to sustain.
At The Theatre At the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN, call 800-511-1552, www.theatreatthecenter.com, tickets $40 – $44, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 2 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm with select Thursday evenings and Saturday matinees., running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission.