Plays about religion sometimes make me nervous. Growing up in a religious family, attending what was then called Cincinnati Bible College, and embracing Christian principles in my personal life sometimes makes shows about those themes uncomfortable when they’re not handled respectfully. Fortunately, MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET is respectful while being uproariously funny. It’s not so much about religion as it is about religious people – the very Catholic Novak family – who are in possession of a statue of the Virgin Mother. Their now deceased grandfather had a vision of Mary in his barber shop and created a shrine to her that has been visited for years by folks who have experienced miracles as a result of being in her presence. As time has passed, traffic has slowed, not as many visitors stop by, and the tour-guide speech given by the grandchildren has grown stagnant.
But things are not what they seem and as we learn some family secrets, everything delightfully unravels.
The cast is outstanding. The very talented Lauren Ashley Carter plays Ruthie, a spunky young actress, who is in-the-know more than her mother and siblings. Those siblings played by the wonderful Jennifer Joplin and Kyle Nunn have their own agenda. She’s got a bowling gig and he’s got a proposal to make (to a Jewish girl, no less), while their mother (a dynamite Wendy Barrie Wilson) really wants them all to renew their passion for their grandfather’s story. You see where these kids get their spunk from the minute we meet Mom.
But Ruthie has a new idea for a play and its about the family. She wants their permission to tell their story, but first she has to actually tell them the truth about what she knows about the statue. It’s an absurd tale, but a charming one.
The acting saves a medicore script, and while there were several laugh out loud moments in the dialogue there were just as many eye roll inducing ones. But I was touched more than once by the performances and the interplay by this family who so obviously adores one another in spite of their humanity.
The set design by Eric Moore was great. My friend – who is from a Catholic New England family – said “this looks like my grandparents kitchen. Moore nails the authenticity and the set was functional, as well. All of the technical elements were seamless and I thought Richard Hess’s direction helped keep the flow of the story going. I was never bored, not once.
MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISON STREET won’t be winning any Pulitzer Prizes, but it will make you laugh. And it might just warm your heart a little. I recommend it.
MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET runs through September 21st at The Human Race Theatre Company in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Tickets and more information can be found here.