Thursday, December 11, 2014

Actors’ Playhouse: Miracle on South Division Street (3 reviews)

Miracle logo newActors’ Playhouse opened Miracle on South Division Street at The Miracle Theater on December 3, 2014.
Fresh from its Off-Broadway run, MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET is the story of the Nowak family living amidst the urban rubble of Buffalo, NY’s East Side. Clara the family matriarch happily runs her soup kitchen and tends to the family heirloom, a twenty-foot shrine of the Blessed Mother, which adjoins the house. This beacon commemorated the day in 1942 that the Virgin Mary appeared to her father at his home-based barbershop. During the course of this very funny and original play, the entire family’s faith is shaken to the core as the family legend seems to be unraveling. The evening’s results are heartfelt and hilarious.
David Arisco directed a cast that included Jeni Hacker, Deborah L. Sherman, Elizabeth Dimon, and Clay Cartland.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
What matters, what makes Miracle get wildly diverse audiences laughing, is how utterly familiar the interactions of the play’s Nowak family seem.
Directing a show like Miracle on South Division Street is like breathing for artistic director David Arisco, particularly when he has a cast as comically deft as this one. Hacker comes off as a real Buffalo gal, Cartland as that nice yet annoying brother. Dimon is warmly funny yet always grounded in reality. Sherman plays jittery Ruth like a woman her family habitually ignores, but she’s determined to make this Christmas Eve another one for the Nowak record books.
For my money, Dudzick’s writing in Miracle on South Division Street is more craftsmanlike than inspired. But not every holiday-themed show can be timeless gem like A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. Sometimes, reliable laughs are enough of a gift.

Michele F. Solomon wrote for Florida Theater On Stage:
As holiday plays go, original offerings are a) the tried and true traditionals, a la A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life b) new plays that try too hard, Santaland Diaries or c) something truly original. Something truly original is usually not the norm. But at Actor’s Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, a miracle of holiday comedy has emerged. Tom Dudzick’s Miracle on South Division Street has all the makings to become a perennial holiday comedy favorite and the production that’s been put together in the cozy balcony theater at the Playhouse boosts its appeal even further
The ensemble cast at Actors’ Playhouse warms up to each other right out of the gate. Cartland’s relationship to Dimon as the good son… Then there’s the sibling rivalry among the three with Hacker giving Cartland some pretty realistic knuckle punches – a small nuance that really gives the relationships true grit.
Dimon always seems to manage to pull something fresh and new out for every character she plays, even when they possess many of the same essences.
Sherman has the most difficult role as the play’s chief protagonist – not only charged with delivering news that will change the family’s life, but also revealing Ruth’s struggles with her own identity crisis. Sherman finds a way to convey both of these emotional struggles.
David Arisco’s direction ties it all up in a nice gift box, puts a bow on it and wraps it up just right. There’s no questioning the history of these family ties. In a purely production value sense, every corner of the set is used, yet no character ever seems disengaged from another, which is so crucial in this ensemble comedy.
Ditch what’s in your annual theater calendar; Miracle on South Division Street is a vision.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
The phrase “heart warming” seldom slips over my glib lips; real men don't do seasonal emotion. But, dammit, "Miracle," to compound the cliché, just tugged at my heart strings. And of course, tickled my funny bone something proper.  No kidding, this is a cleverly written, cleverly directed piece that does all the right things for the Holiday Season. It's an all-secrets-revealed play that happily strews gulps and guffaws throughout the evening
The acting is excellent. Dimon presents a quiet, strong woman who simply struggles through life. Quiet, too, is Cartland, secure in himself and warmly supportive of his family. Sherman and Hacker are far broader on the stage, and rightly so, for this "Miracle on South Division Street," despite its really funny side, is a calm piece about relationships, religion and love. The broadness of Hacker and Sherman kicks things right along into the aforementioned Heart Warming mode. Well done, those women. Well done, one and all.

Actors’ Playhouse presents Miracle on South Division Street at The Miracle Theater through December 28 2014.

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