CARS HOMES JOBS

Review: Family revelations bared in touching, amusing play

Sunday, May 26, 2013
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— Oedipus. He thought he was a Corinthian prince, but no. And the consequences were dire.

In the course of Tom Dudzick’s “Miracle on South Division Street,” now at Curtain Call, the Nowak family of Buffalo — also operating under certain assumptions — learns some truths about who they are, and the consequences are both amusing and touching.

'Miracle on South Division Street'

WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham

WHEN: Through June 22

HOW MUCH: $23

MORE INFO: 877-7529, or www.curtaincalltheatre.com

You’ll like the way Dudzick paces the elements of plot: exposition, inciting action, complications, climax and denouement. Act I ends with a cliffhanger, and Act II provides some discoveries that lead the characters and the audience on a merry chase for the truth. And at the end, three-quarters of the family is making peace with their new-found identities.

It’s 2010. We’re in the kitchen (and it’s a beaut, thanks to set designer William E. Fritz’s detailed work) of Clara Nowak (Rie Lee), a widow with three grown children. On this particular day, Ruth (Rhiannon Antico) has called a meeting of her mother and her siblings, Beverly (Jennifer Bullington) and Jimmy (Isaac Newberry). It concerns the statue of the Blessed Virgin that Clara’s father erected in 1943 in gratitude for a vision he had of Mary, and for 67 years people have dropped money into the shrine in hopes of having their prayers answered. Apparently, some have been.

As the family tries to give Ruth their attention, we learn information about their personalities that will later come in handy. Clara, for example, is a devout Catholic, concerned that two of her children aren’t following the faith. Jimmy, an easygoing garbage man, is about to pop the question to a Jewish woman. Beverly, who would rather bowl than listen to her sister’s story, grudgingly stays around, but gets into adolescent squabbles with Jimmy. And all three of the children quickly fall into line when Clara frequently snaps her kitchen towel at them.

Then come the revelations in Act II, and the attendant laughs are completely earned, thanks to Dudzick’s clever writing.

Director Phil Rice’s handling of his four fine actors is sure. Everybody is at ease in Clara’s kitchen, doing something — fixing a toaster, washing grapes, swigging a beer, etc. — even as they’re spooling out dialogue. (If there were a few shaky moments of forgotten lines on Saturday that slowed the pace, the performers ultimately worked themselves out of the dead ends.)

Newberry, a CCT veteran, plays the slightly detached Jimmy well, always alert to where danger might be coming from and adept at avoiding it. He “Yes, Ma’ams” when he has to while making plans to get on with his life. Bullington’s Beverly is a force of nature, heaving herself through a situation as noisily as she heaves her ball down the alley. But Beverly isn’t laughable: her questions hang in the air when news about her family challenges her identity. A shaded performance from Bullington.

Antico, making a strong CCT debut, ably shows Ruth’s sensitivity to the needs of her family and her fierce desire to be an actress. Her delivery of the bombshells in Act II is spot on, and the other actors’ reactions priceless. Finally, Rie Lee’s Clara has the furthest to go in terms of change, and Lee paces that change well, from a middle-aged woman certain of what she believes to one coming to grips with information that completely alters those beliefs. Lee and Antico have a lovely moment at the end, one that shows a mother’s unequivocal love no matter who she, or the daughter, might be.

We’ve all seen news reports of twins who find each other after years of separation. No twins here, but a life surprise that makes us laugh and think again about the stories we so comfortably tell ourselves about who we are.

 
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