THE BASICS: MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION, a play by Tom Dudzick about Christmas in South Buffalo, directed by Fran Landis runs through December 19, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2:30. Lancaster Opera House, (LOH) 21 Central Avenue Lancaster, NY 14086 (716-683-1776) lancasteropera.org. Vaccination proof with ID and masks required. Runtime: 100 minutes, no intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: In widow Clara Nowak’s (Tina Rausa) kitchen in a run-down working-class neighborhood of Buffalo in the winter of 2010, Clara’s three children come for a family meeting because youngest daughter Ruth (Lisa Noelle Miller) has a big secret to share. She wants to tell her mom, her sister Beverly (Kate Mulberry), and her brother Jimmy (John Kaczorowski) something important about the statue of the Virgin Mary that their father had put up outside his barber shop after claiming a visitation from the Blessed Mother. The author notes that “This play is pure fiction” but is based on actual events growing up on Buffalo’s East Side in the 1950s.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Following many of the rules of the “well-made play” as set down in the early 1800s, Buffalo born playwright Tom Dudzik has created a little gem. Author Wilkie Collins is quoted as describing this type of play as “Make ’em laugh; make ’em weep; make ’em wait.” And I certainly did. It’s not every day that I’m all choked up and laughing at the same time. And wait? That would be more like the proverbial “But wait… there’s more” you hear on TV. And there is more. You’ve heard of “waiting for the other shoe to drop?” Just wait. There are several times the shoe hits the fan, I mean, the floor.
It’s fairly typical of audiences at almost any play to say “I liked the second part better than the first” because at first the playwright has to introduce us to all the characters and, in a well-made play, plant seeds that should seem unremarkable but that will flower later on. Or, to paraphrase playwright Anton Chekhov, “If you see a pistol in Act I, it damn well better go off in Act II.” There are no “pistols” in MIRACLE (except older sister Beverly) but there is a strange request for a jar of gefilte fish that all makes sense by the end of this one act show.
I must admit, I’m not as big a fan of Tom Dudzick’s plays as a Buffalonian is “supposed” to be. He often adds just one too many sentences for my taste when he’s setting up his jokes. And that’s sometimes the case with MIRACLE, but not always, and I think he’s on solid ground by keeping it to just four characters and one set – David Dwyer’s excellent retro kitchen – to keep things moving.
The direction by Fran Landis showed clever blocking for the characters who move around the kitchen easily, always engaged in some realistic “stage business,” and the use of props is excellent. However, she let most of her actors deliver lines too forcefully instead of making the conversation seem organic.
Having said that, my favorite on stage was actor John Kaczorowski as the brother, Jimmy Nowak, who was completely believable. Here’s a rule of thumb: Whenever you see an actor (in a play, movie, or on TV) and you think “That person isn’t acting. They’re just playing themselves. Hell, I could do that!” then that’s probably the best actor on stage. Click here for a “Meet the cast” video and a funny story, well told, by Kaczorowski of his most embarrassing moment on stage.
So, the plotting of MIRACLE is excellent, the dialog as written by Dudzick could be a little tighter, the staging is also first rate, some of the acting is a bit forced, but overall, I had a great time and so did what appeared to be a sold-out Sunday audience around me.
WHAT’S NEXT at LOH: NUNSENSATIONS “The Nunsense Vegas Review” by Dan Goggin has the “Little Sisters of Hoboken” reluctantly travel to Las Vegas after being assured that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” It runs the usual Friday, Saturday, Sunday afternoons from January 28, 2022 to February 3.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!