A statue and a 'Miracle on South Division Street'

Pewter Plough Playhouse brings a story of family and secrets to the stage

Special to The TribuneFebruary 27, 2014 

From left, Amy Arnell, Jonathon Weise, Janice Peters and Stacy Delaney in the Pewter Plough Playhouse’s "Miracle on South Division Street."

IAIN MCADAM

The Nowak family had no idea they had a skeleton in the closet. They only knew that for 65 years the front yard of their working-class neighborhood home boasted a 20-foot enshrined statue. The marble icon doesn’t shatter, but the family’s pride does, when they learn the truth based on a deathbed confession.

The title of the Pewter Plough Playhouse’s current production, “Miracle on South Division Street,” may be coattailing on the 1947 classic Christmas movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” but other than a shared theme of miracles, the similarity ends there.

In the case of the Nowaks, the Holy Mother allegedly appeared in 1942 in the Buffalo, N.Y., barbershop of the now-deceased family patriarch, a refugee from war-struck Poland. Her message pertained to peace on Earth.

To honor the visitation, the man who became known as “Grandpa”
 hired a sculptor to carve the statue of his then- modern version of the Virgin Mary.

It always made the Nowaks — mother Clara and her three children — feel special that their family was singled out for this holy event.

As Clara, Janice Peters, a seasoned actress, is a convincing mother-hen type, lording it over her family in her cheery yellow kitchen, where all the action takes place.

From early childhood, the three kids have taken shifts to explain the statue’s history to visitors, like Hearst Castle guides.

Son Jimmy is getting fed up with it, as, like a relentless drama coach, his mom forces him to rehearse his lines, demonstrating how to show more passion. Jimmy’s passions, however, are directed toward a girl he met at the bowling alley.

Jonathon Weise, with his acquired spot-on New York accent, appears absolutely at ease as an affectionate son and brother who fondly teases the women, even though this is his first time onstage.

The family members are fairly content with their lot: Jimmy as a garbage man; sister Beverly as a factory worker; and mom, who cooks soup for the needy. But aspiring actress Ruth, played by Stacy Delaney, hungers for more. As she prepares to shuffle off from Buffalo and move to New York City, she holds a family meeting.

Delaney plays her role well, although sans her family’s New York accent, occasionally sounding Southern.

Sister Beverly, played by Amy Arnell, is irked that the meeting cuts into her bowling practice with the man she hopes is “the one.” Crass compared to the rest of the family, Arnell, whose parents hail from Buffalo, has the accent down pat.

Pewter Plough musical director David Manion did a fine job of directing this smooth-running performance, although the only tune is the “Fur Elise” ring-tone blasting from Ruth’s cell phone.

The biases are not politically correct and the jokes are hokey, but the audience chuckled, and the entertaining play offers surprises worth waiting for.

The main miracle here is that such a wholesome, good-natured story can be so well received in an age where entertainment for the masses is filled with violence, sex and obscenity.

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