Deconstructing (and admiring) GeVa’s “Miracle on South Division Street” through the looking glass.

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Looking into GEVA [Photo: Tracy Migliore] 1/28/16

Last night I enjoyed from start to finish GeVa’s Miracle on South Division Street. Set in Buffalo’s East Side in 2010, the play brings to life the improbable and touching story of the Nowaks, a Polish-American Catholic family, guardians of a fungus curing, hope giving miraculous shrine and statue of the virgin Mary herself.

The evening flew by with fast-paced good humored wit, delightful and delighting characters, plot twists that kept us groaning and rapt. And even some teary eyes for this jaded theater critic. The Nowaks are very real.

And, the play does some very interesting things with its elephant in the room: race.

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Display case with photos of the old neighborhood and models of the set 1/28/16

The characters are all white. They live, according to its author Tom Dudzick’s website, “amidst the urban rubble of Buffalo’s East Side,” a predominantly African-American district.  (The playbill describes the neighborhood as “run down and working class.”) Yet not a single mention is made of race. To my memory, not one. One character does mention a friend who fled the neighborhood’s “urban blight” only to find it in Cleveland.

Instead — in ways enlivened with a funniness bordering on absurdity — encounters with race become encounters with Jewish identity.  Fears of religious intermarriage subtly mirror fears of racial intermarriage. I can’t tell too much about the encounters without ruining the plot, but by the end the Nowaks are discovering their own identities are not at all what they imagined.

But the beauty — and the moving power of the play — is how Dudzick and the Nowaks handle their new world with, yes, grace.

I don’t know to what degree Dudzick deliberately avoided all mention of race — yet places the Nowaks right amidst the urban rubble of Buffalo’s East Side. But it works. And makes the play both smart and funny.

[Note: Concerned that my “theory,” was off base, I canvassed several audience members and two ushers who had seen the performance many times. They seemed to endorse the theory, saying I should “go with it.”  Nonetheless, viewed through whatever lens, Miracle on South Division Street  is great theater you will enjoy.]

ALSO ON GEVA

A finely executed performance of Mockingbird at GEVA. And on the “white trash” Ewells

Seeing Red. Did we violate “sacred space” backstage at GeVa?