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

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?

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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