Total Rating: 
November 20, 2017
December 17, 2017
Milwaukee Chamber Theater
Theater Type: 
Milwaukee Chamber Theater
Theater Address: 
158 North Broadway
Running Time: 
90 min
Tom Dudzick
C. Michael Wright

Although playwright Tom Dudzick will never be the next Neil Simon, you can’t blame him for trying. With all the one-liners inserted into Miracle on South Division Street, it’s difficult not to imagine the clever dialogue for which the now 90-year-old Neil Simon is known.

Dudzick’s premise is that every family is as unique as its members. (This also applies to Neil Simon as well. The family in The Goodbye Girl is far different from the one in Brighton Beach Memoirs.) Dudzick has learned from the best, and he is only a bit short of the goal.

Some people (not this reviewer, unfortunately) can easily relate to the Irish Catholic family featured in Miracle. Director C. Michael Wright, who is also the company’s managing artistic director, grew up in Upstate New York where the play is set. If he says this is the real deal, I would tend to believe him.

The characters are quirky enough to earn our interest. The family’s matriarch is a widowed Clara Nowak (Raeleen McMillion). She has kept the family’s Catholic faith and their “special” identity alive for many years. They have a gigantic shrine to the Blessed Mother in their backyard. It has been there for more than 40 years. It commemorates the day when Clara’s now-deceased father claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to him in his barbershop. Although the Catholic Church has never officially recognized the event, Clara notes that people still come from all corners of the Earth to view the shrine.

This is one of the few plays this reviewer can recall where the second act is better than the first. Clara and her three adult children (Josh Krause, Kat Wodtke, and Greta Wohlrabe) have a family meeting that includes some news known only to one of the siblings. The second act is when the s--- hits the fan.

Of the three, Josh Krause is the one who comes off as the most affable. Jimmy has his own future that only minimally include his sisters and mother. The sisters bicker and so does the mother, who frets over everything from the fact that her children are not attending Mass regularly to the fact that her bakery may or may not be the best in town.

To her credit, Clara runs a soup kitchen for the less fortunate (when she’s not meddling in her children’s affairs). Make no mistake; this is McMillion’s show all the way. Thankfully, McMillion is a dialect coach who can duplicate this very distinct New York accent. Her character is the best-developed in the play.

Because Clara’s world is so small, some of McMillion’s humor comes from what she’s read about or seen on TV. She relies on her son (Josh Krause) to fix whatever is falling apart, no matter its age. This has parallels to her passion for keeping her father’s memory alive.

Although the play is set in 2010, the kitchen in which the play takes place could almost have come from a generation earlier. The kitchen is plastered in ugly wallpaper, and the stove is bathed in harvest gold. There is a decorative plate collection covering one section of the wallpaper, and hideous linoleum on the floor. Clara’s penchant for baking is visually verified by her enormous collection of cookie jars clustered on one counter. One suspects that Clara hasn’t the slightest wish to update her surroundings.

That being the case (i.e., Clara’s old-fashioned nature), it doesn’t make sense that Clara so easily embraces Ruth’s unconventional lifestyle. No wonder Ruth (Kat Wodtke) doesn’t want to attend Mass anymore. Neither does Josh, but for an entirely different reason. He, too, is keeping secrets these days.

It’s probably not a surprise that Clara knows more than she’s telling, especially when Josh says, “You should open up a detective agency, Ma.” The fact that the Blessed Mother appeared to Clara’s father at Christmas puts a holiday spin on the play, which makes it somewhat more seasonal for audiences looking for something new.

mild adult themes
Raeleen McMillion (Clara); Josh Krause (Jimmy); Kat Wodtke (Ruth); Greta Wohlrabe (Beverly).
Set: Stephen Hudson-Mairet; Costumes: Deborah Krajec; Lighting: Alan Piotrowicz: Sound: Terrance Barrett.
Anne Siegel
Date Reviewed: 
November 2017