Epilogue: Secrets of neighborhood ‘Miracle’ revealed

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.

House haunters resist change in BCP comedy

By John Lyle Belden

“Over My Dead Body,” a one-hour one-act by Jean Blasiar on stage at Buck Creek Players, bears a small resemblance to a present TV series about ghosts taking issue with how the living folk take care of “their” house. Like that show, this play is more charming than chilling, with this story giving emphasis on family and preserving what’s important.

Dearly departed Miranda and Ben Gould (Melissa DeVito and Brad Burns) like to hang out in the rafters of the family home, which daughter-in-law Stella (Tiffany D. Wilson) wants to get rid of. Ben and Miranda’s son Frank (Dennis Karr) doesn’t mind the presence of long-gone relatives and the home’s spooky reputation; he is uncertain about the move – or if the spirits will even allow it. Frank and Stella’s daughter Jessica (Jeanna Little) likes the idea of moving from Pennsylvania to Florida, while son Dylan (Grant Bowen) definitely does not – wielding ghost-hunter gear, he devotedly contacts his grandparents as best he can.  

To make the house salable, Stella calls on medium Horatia (Beth Popplewell) to attempt an exorcism. Miranda counters with intervention by St. Francis of Assisi (Ron Pittman) himself. Mary Miller and Cheryl Croghan hang around as mischievous spirits. Nickie Cornett directs.

The actors playing ghosts are having a ghoulishly good time, especially DeVito in her well-intentioned grandmotherly urge to make things the way she feels they should be. Burns as her husband is taking it easy in the afterlife – sort of a “grateful dead” was my first thought. Karr has Frank share his late father’s let-it-ride attitude, while Wilson and Little have Stella and Jessica working their conflict between the family oddness and the desire to live a more “normal” life. Meanwhile, Bowen plays Dylan as a “buster” on the side of the ghosts. Creepy cuties Miller and Croghan become the literal deux ex machina with a well-timed possession. Popplewell makes Horatia as entertaining as she is incompetent.

And St. Francis would have me remind all that the Gould family “cat” is still missing.

This show is a nice way to start the “spooky season,” especially for families with children, as any scares are “Scooby-Doo” level and at the end the cast come out with their buckets of treats (no tricks!).

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday, Oct. 7-9, at the Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road Exit off I-74. Get info and tickets at buckcreekplayers.com.