By John Lyle Belden
As posted in the program, playwright Tom Dudzick was inspired by an actual shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary erected in his childhood Buffalo, N.Y., neighborhood by a barber who said She had appeared to him in his shop. Thinking, “there’s a story here,” Dudzick made up the Nowak family of his comedy, “Miracle on South Division Street,” on stage Thursday through Sunday at Epilogue Players.
In the year 2000, Ruth (Shannon Clancy), an aspiring actress and writer, calls a family meeting. Garbage-truck driving brother Jimmy (Grant Bowen) is on hand, and mother Clara (Letitia Clemons) arrives to critique Ruth’s method of preparing lunch. Soon, sister Beverly (Jeanna Little) joins them, persuaded to put off bowling practice (big tournament tonight!) to find out what is going on.
These Nowaks, Polish Catholics of varying piety, are caretakers of the famous statue, revered in the neighborhood but ignored by the Vatican. Ruth has both good and potentially bad news: rather than pen her in-progress novel, she will write a play about the shrine, for which a producer has already approached her; however, the story of the statue will be quite different from the one Clara has had them tell their entire lives.
Family mayhem ensues. But as revelations crash like waves upon the family – “like if the Hardy Boys were Catholic!” Jimmy declares – a bigger story comes into focus, bringing fresh meaning to the “Blessed Mother.”
The characters occupy two ends of a spectrum, with Clara embodying a traditional mother type that Clemons imbues with a loving spirit, and simple-pleasures Beverly an upper-Midwest archetype. Meanwhile Ruth has Big Apple ambitions and one foot in the closet, while Jimmy is courting danger by seeing a woman outside the faith. Bowen balances a man/boy character who doesn’t want to make waves yet feels the need to make his own way. Clancy ably handles the burden of being the fulcrum on which the plot balances, a sister and daughter resigned to being the truth-teller, though she feels it could cost her the trust and love of her family.
Directed by Ed Mobley, this very funny heart-filled family drama is a reminder that miracles do happen – often in ways we don’t expect.
Performances, through April 30, are at Epilogue’s corner stage at 1849 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Info and tickets at epilogueplayers.com.