Miracle on South Division Street – An Atlanta Theater Fans Review

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Photo by R. Todd Fleeman

Photo by R. Todd Fleeman

Every family has its quirks, secrets and faults. But, for the Nowaks, a good Catholic family, what happens when the rug gets pulled out from under them is pure situation comedy hilarity. One of the best productions that Stage Door Players has staged, Miracle on South Division Street provides plenty of laughs and heart-warming moments.

After Clara’s (Susan Shalhoub-Larkin) father saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and received a message of peace in his Buffalo barber shop, he built a shrine to commemorate the event. Trying to convince skeptics, which her own mother was one, Clara continued to tell the story of the shrine as she runs a soup kitchen.

Now, she has one last hope to convince the pubic it was real: the Pope, and her daughter’s new boyfriend could be the vehicle to help make it happen. However, fate, her mother’s deathbed confession and Ruth’s (Kelly Criss) desire to tell the true story in a one-woman show will unravel everything this family has ever known and challenge their faith to its core.

Tom Dudzick’s script, while pedestrian at times, provides plenty of moments for the talented cast to shine under the direction of Dina Shadwell. The themes of family and faith work as a solid foundation for the story. Building on one another’s strengths, the ensemble cast (which includes real life mother and son Susan Shalhoub-Larkin and Tony Larkin) gives remarkable, memorable performances.

Shalhoub-Larkin’s Clara is both understated and strong. While she doesn’t portray the typical New York Catholic matriarch, the stubborn, domineering qualities she exhibits create a convincing character. Her comedic timing and tone balance well against Larkin’s no-nonsense attitude and Criss’ nervous Ruth. The chemistry between the three keep the show’s first half interesting as the script labors through the exposition.

Even though the first quarter of the show moves slowly, despite quick quips between the family members, the rest of it is quite different. Whether the change is in the script or due to the ingenious craft of Kara Cantrell as Beverly, the show’s pace takes a substantial turn when she enters the stage. Everything from the outfit to the walk screams the personality of this working class woman, and Cantrell has created one of the most memorable characters to grace an Atlanta stage. There’s no doubt that she steals the show, but she does so without taking away from any of the other performances.

While the situation is a bit melodramatic, this cast makes it seem much grander than it is. The cast’s delivery is impeccable and unforgettable. Miracle on South Division Street runs through April 13, 2014 at Dunwoody’s Stage Door Players. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtimes is a little under two hours with an intermission.

– Kenny Norton