Retro and relevant

A review of Human Race’s Miracle on South Division Street

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: [l-r] Lauren Ashley Carter as Ruth, Wendy Barrie-Wilson as Clara and Kyle Nunn as Jimmy in “Miracle on South Division Street”;

photo: Scott J. Kimmins.

A miracle of big laughs and knowing chuckles occurred at the Loft Theatre opening night as the Human Race presented its season opener, “Miracle on South Division Street.” The story of an almost-ordinary Buffalo family is 80 minutes, without intermission, and clearly connected with a multi-age Dayton audience.

“My plays always seem to be audience favorites,” playwright Tom Dudzick said in a phone interview, “and have played off-Broadway and in many regional theatres.” He seems to be a cheerful and satisfied man who writes stories about regular folks in regular places, such as his native Buffalo – or Dayton.

The four-person professional cast – under the direction of Resident Artist Richard E. Hess, also a Buffalo native – brings high energy and well-defined characterizations to a story with surprise twists that must be seen to be believed.

Meet the Nowaks, a Polish family determined to remain in a changed and dying part of town and to maintain their grandfather’s shrine to the Virgin Mary. It was built in 1943 after Grandpa had a vision of the Virgin Mary appearing in his barbershop. Now, his daughter Clara (Wendy Barrie-Wilson) rules her three children according to the rules of the Catholic Church and her determination to preserve her father’s legacy. “It’s not supposed to make sense,” she assures them, “it’s religion.”

Lauren Ashley Carter as daughter Ruth tries to hold a family meeting because she has something to tell them – the true story of the shrine. Instead, she comes up against universal family dynamics. Carter is convincingly frustrated, hopeful, loving, resolute and a little afraid of Mom. She brings enormous heart and energy to the role.

Kyle Nunn as son Jimmy has some of the best of many clever one-liners, which he delivers with charming naturalism (“Mom, this toaster is so old it still has Grandma’s crumbs in it.”) He serves as a calming voice to keep the excitable women in his life able to hear each other. His timing is skillful.

Jennifer Joplin is older sister Beverly; she’s impatient to go on to her bowling match rather than participate in a family meeting. Joplin is a resident artist, last seen here in the Human Race last season in “Other Desert Cities.” When asked to compare the two roles after the show, Joplin said, “I thought this would be light weight compared to ‘Desert Cities,’ but it has been quite cathartic.”

She also spoke about the delight of working with director Hess. “There are all kinds of small touches of Catholicism on the set and he shared many stories about Buffalo that helped us get into the characters.”

Hess described himself as one of six children from an Irish Catholic family, but he speaks about his native city in many of the same words as playwright Tom Dudzick, himself one of five children in a Polish Catholic family. The two have never met, but Hess said, “As soon as I saw the selections for the 2014-15 season, I asked to direct this show. I hadn’t had a chance to do one of his plays.”

Each cited the somewhat underdog mind-set of declining cities, and the hope and faith ordinary families bring to their own lives with a sort of no-matter-what lack of sophistication. Dudzick: “My plays are not about elegant people having cocktails in the big city, but folks we can relate to.”

Dudzick said there really was, and is, a shrine in his old neighborhood, but he created the Nowak family and their issues completely from his imagination.

He has indeed brought real people caught up in challenging – if somewhat too speedily solved – problems. An audience member who described herself as a “first-generation Polish Catholic” connected with the opening scene’s ethnic music with seat bouncing enthusiasm. She spied many appropriate elements on the set, reflecting the time period and the statues and pictures found in similar homes.

The set, a working kitchen created by scenic designer Eric Moore with help from scenic artist Ray Zupp, is real and functional, appropriately a bit stuck in the past. Its faded wallpaper is just right, including the out of date too-high cabinets requiring petite actor Carter (Ruth) to use a chair to reach the top shelf.

It’s furnished with ’70s-ish dinette table, refrigerator and stove, bulky TV and familiar-to-some dishes and cookware. The effect is homey and working-class. In fact, it is a work of art.

Decoration and props, such as a Buffalo Bills magnet, generated much attention and discussion from the multi-age audience.

Heather Powell is properties master. Technical director is Scott J. Kimmins. Tara Lail is producer. Kay Carver is production stage manager, with Jason Taylor Stewart as production assistant. Kathie Brookfield is costume designer with Andrew Ian Adams on wardrobe and Christie Peitzmeier as costume shop manager. Brian Retterer is sound designer and Nathan D. Dean is house sound engineer. John Rensel is lighting designer.

The Human Race is finding an increasing need for addition financial help, as are many of our arts organizations. For instance, the production costs for this show are $101,042. They lack $28,500. With a “Keep the Lights on at the Human Race” campaign they hope to garner new support. To help, please visit Every dollar is appreciated.

The Human Race Theatre Company presents “Miracle on South Division Street” through Sunday, Sept. 21 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. For more information, please visit For tickets, please call 937.228.3630 or visit

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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