In a Crowded Kitchen, Miracle Makes Room for More

Miracle on South Division Street

Lamb Arts Regional Theatre
September 20, 2019: 7:30

Future Performances: September 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, and 29.

What you notice first when you enter the auditorium for Lamb Regional Theatre’s production of Miracle on South Division Street is the set.  It’s stunning.  Impressive.  Authentic.  Then it occurs to you: My god, are we going to be stuck in a kitchen for the whole play? 

We are.  But we are never stuck. 

The play opens with Jimmy, the garbage-man son of the matriarch Clara, tinkering at the kitchen table.  The play isn’t about Jimmy.  It’s not about Jimmy’s sister Ruth, his other sister Beverly, or his mother.  (This, by the way, is the entire cast.)  Miracle on South Division engages a little bit of family lore—a local shrine Clara’s father erected to honor the Blessed Mother—but the play is about far more than that.  It’s about how we are almost always more, and almost never less, than what we think we are.  This—no spoilers here, I hope—becomes clear to the characters by the end of the play. 

But it should also have some significance for the members of the audience.  Artistic Director Russell Wooley reminded everyone in notes before the performance that the stage and the auditorium and the actors don’t become theatre until the audience arrives.  Until the audience participates.  At that point, the thing becomes real, the thing becomes whole, and when executed properly and with care, as it was last night, this whole can inexplicably total more than the sum of its parts. 

With no shifts in setting and only the smallest skip ahead in time, it’s easy to feel immersed in Miracle.  Jamie-Lynn Riffenberg, who plays the daughter Ruth, pulls double duty.  Ruth is a character in the play, of course, but her gradual unfolding of both a personal and a family secret means she’s our de facto narrator as well.  Riffenberg’s (Ruth’s) pacing keeps the play going, but not too fast.  Ruth’s character provides a sober backdrop against which Jimmy (Brock Bourek), Beverly (Molly Dowell Baum), and even Mother Clara (Mary Madsen) can display their comedic chops (among other talents).  In fact, one of the few frustrations I had with the play was when the comedy seemed to intrude on passages of honest, dramatic family dynamics.  Then I had to check myself. The play is a comedy, after all. and ti’s entertainment.  But really, it’s much more than that. 

So come out and see Miracle on South Division Street at Lamb Arts Regional Theatre.  It shows twice more this weekend and four times (yep, four) the next.  You’ll pay your money, sit in a seat, and laugh.  But you and I both know the experience will amount to far more than that.    

Brendan Todt is a stay-at-home father who has never taken a theatre class in his life. His poems and short prose can be found in print magazines and on various internets. He mows his neighbor’s lawn in exchange for piano lessons.