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"Miracle on South Division Street" Appears at St. Luke's
MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET -- Rusty Ross (Jimmy Nowak), Peggy Cosgrave (Clara Nowak), Liz Zazzi (Beverly Nowak), Andrea Maulella (Ruth Nowak). Photo by Aaron Pepis.
Miracle on South Division Street
Directed by Joe Brancato
St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46 Street
Opened May 13, 2012
Tickets: $36.50- $69.50 (212) 239-6200 or www.telecharge.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 15, 2012
Many families define themselves with stories that may or may not be true. According to my father and aunts and uncles, we are descendants of the great Talmudic scholar Shlomo Yitzhaki, also known as Rashi,
In Tom Dudzick’s new comedy, "Miracle on South Division Street, directed by Joe Brancato, Clara Nowak (Peggy Cosgrave) and her three children, Jimmy (Rusty Ross), Ruth (Andrea Maulella) and Beverly (Liz Zazzi), are convinced Clara’s father once saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and the statue he had erected near their home commemorates this event.
The entire play takes place in Clara’s worn and much-used kitchen in a run-down working class neighborhood of Buffalo. It is here that Clara must come to terms with the way her children’s lives are diverging from her expectations. Some of the fault lines are obvious from the beginning.
In the first place, none of them is
married. Beverly is reduced to looking for a man on the Internet. Jimmy is dating a Jewish girl. Ruth, an aspiring actress, shows little interest in men, and worse yet, has stopped going to Mass. But the real surprise concerns the statue. The story of its origins takes the family back to Poland at the outbreak of World War II. And this story drastically alters the family’s identify as God’s elect.
Ruth learned the secret of the statue from her dying grandmother but was sworn to secrecy. It is only when she is given the opportunity of turning that story into a solo show that she decides to tell the family what she knows. As portrayed by the excellent Maulella, she is spunky and needy, a woman who might be timid if she were not so desperate.
Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway veteran Peggy Cosgrave leads this excellent cast just as Clara presides over her family. The warmth, humor and crustiness she gives Clara are so believable it’s doubtful many in the audience will not be able to identify her with someone they have known and loved.
Ross spends most of his time trying to fix a broken toaster (by the end of the play he has graduated to an old vacuum cleaner). But when Jimmy does enter into the conversation he proves to be a perceptive observer who knows more of the family secrets than one would suspect.
Beverly enters the Nowak kitchen carrying a bowling ball, and Zazzi makes it a pretty sure thing that Beverly knows how to make a strike. But Beverly is also funny and understanding. It is she who delivers the news to her mother: Jesus was Jewish!
Many people (especially those living in Manhattan) may find it hard to believe that anachronistic families like the Nowaks really exist. Do people still believe God performs miracles? Do mothers today refuse to allow cursing in their kitchens? Is it a catastrophe if someone marries outside the faith? One can do no more than to advise those people to take a trip out to Brooklyn or Staten Island.
The interaction of Clara and her children is often hilarious; they interrupt each other, lead conversations astray and have an infallible ability to find each others’ soft spots in ways that are familiar to all of us.
But "Miracle on South Division Street is not simply a light comedy. It is the story of a family’s search for identity. Even more it is a lesson on how families can remain strong and connected at a time when many families seem to be falling apart.
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