on South Division Street
by Tom Dudzick
Directed by Richard Hess
Lauren Ashley Carter - Ruth
Kyle Nunn - Jimmy
Jennifer Joplin - Beverly
Lauren, Kyle, Jennifer, Wendy
A Note from Director Richard E. Hess
Tom Dudzick writes beautiful plays about blue-collar, working-class, Catholic, Buffalo, New York, a town much like Dayton, Ohio in so many ways. He loves his immigrant families, especially his Polish Americans, and he writes with heart and humor about simpler times when confessions could make the world right again, and if not, Sister Mary Joseph would set you right whether you wanted it or not.
In his popular play Over the Tavern, produced by The Human Race Theatre Company in 2008, Dayton audiences met the Pazinskis in 1959, and laughed as Rudy and his family struggled with faith under the watchful eye of Sister Clarissa. In King o’ the Moon (Over the Tavern, Part II) he showcasedthe Pazinski clan ten years later as they struggled with faith in the turbulent 60s. The Last Mass at St. Casimir’s (Over the Tavern, Part III) takes place in the bar room almost a decade later, during the infamous Buffalo Blizzard of 1977.
Miracle on South Division Street follows in the same vein, a hilarious and heartfelt tribute to family, to faith, and to the human spirit. Change is in the air as playwright Tom Dudzick introduces audiences to a new family, the Nowaks, living amidst the urban rubble of Buffalo in the present day. The neighborhood is depressed, innocence is in short supply, but the Nowaks still preside over the neighborhood miracle. In 1942 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in the barbershop run by their grandfather, and they still tend to the twenty-foot shrine built to commemorate the event which sits on the street next to their house! Peter Kramer of The Journal News called it, “A rollicking comedy where one revelation builds on another to an unexpected and thoroughly satisfying conclusion.”
I love a good comedy, and I love a good comedy with heart. We all need a dose of laughter now and then, and I pray that you will join us as we all experience together a Miracle on South Division Street.
–Richard E. Hess
Playwright Tom Dudzick's Inspiration
Miracle on South Division Street is pure fiction, based on a “true” local legend.
Back in busy, bustling 1950s Buffalo, a block and a half from my father’s tavern, there stood a barbershop. Next to the barbershop was a 20-foot-tall shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary – a beautiful life-sized statue encased in wood, brick and glass. It’s raison d’être? Well, legend had it that the Blessed Mother herself appeared to this barber and gave him a message for the world concerning world peace. (She was in favor of it.) Whether this miraculous materialization actually took place is still a matter of conjecture, but, regardless, there it stood, this monument to a man’s faith for us impressionable kids to gawk at and wonder about. The nuns at St. Pat’s told us not to waste our prayers or coins on the ersatz saint as the mighty Roman Catholic Church had no intention of ever sanctioning this hokey miracle. And that’s how the matter stood at the time I left the neighborhood in 1964.
Fast forward 45 years. My old neighborhood has all but disappeared. Businesses and homes have succumbed to hard times and neglect. Its denizens have fled to the suburbs, and St. Pat’s is gone. But amidst the rubble of urban blight something still stands, dare I say, “miraculously?” You guessed it, the shrine to the Blessed Mother – spared from the wrecking ball by a promise from City Hall, lovingly preserved by a handful of faithful residents, its creator long passed away.
I made a pilgrimage to my old neighborhood a couple of years ago. I stood before the shrine—newly Windexed, freshly flowered, its mail slot still active with donations and requests for miracles—and I thought to myself, “There’s a story here.” The real-life details of its origin were forever buried with the barber, so I needed to invent a family.
And you will meet them, the Nowaks of Buffalo’s East Side – amalgams of people I grew up with, some friends and family, and a little of myself sprinkled in. After our close interaction these last couple of years I find that I’ve fallen head over bowling shoes for the Nowaks, with all their crassness, their squabbles, their secrets and their dreams. I hope they’ll get under your skin as well. Enjoy!