Actress Marilynn Bogetich is convinced playwright Tom Dudzick could have easily spent time in Northwest Indiana when creating his stage story "Miracle on South Division Street."
"I know the family and characters are based on the urban streets of Buffalo, New York's East Side," said Bogetch, who stars as the mother lead character for the Chicagoland premiere at Theatre at the Center starting previews today and running until June 1.
"But this is about the working-class Nowak Family as they cope with tested faith and life's surprises all dealt with in ways that feel very familiar to a neighborhood in Northwest Indiana or Chicago's Southwest Side."
Dudzick is the writer of the beloved comedy "Over the Tavern," which became a Theatre at the Center hit when staged in 2005, and was also previously a long-running commercial success in Chicago at The Mercury Theater, both productions under William Pullinsi's direction.
Now as director of this month's run of "Miracle on South Division Street," Pullinsi is eager to share this heartfelt and hilarious comedy that follows a supposed visitation by the Virgin Mary to a blue collar working class neighborhood, causing revelations for a family of Polish American Catholics.
The story follows a hard-working mother named Clara Nowak, as played by Bogetich, and her three grown children Jimmy, played by Joseph Popp, a garbage collector, Bev, played by Erin Grennan, a ketchup bottler and Ruth, played by Adria Dawn, who would be a struggling actress if she could only get a part. In 1943, Clara's father had a vision of peace with the Blessed Mother, while working in the family barbershop. To commemorate this miracle, he built a 20-foot shrine of the Blessed Mother, which quickly became a beacon of hope to the neighbors and gave prestige to the family as it grew in popularity across the country.
The play story flashes forward 70 years, with Clara now happily running her soup kitchen and awaiting the Pope to give the miracle experienced his seal of approval. The play opens with a family meeting, where daughter Ruth divulges her plan to generate renewed interest in the shine by creating a one-woman play about the sacred event. During the course of the meeting, both Clara's patience and religious faith are tested, and events cause the family legend to unravel, resulting in chaos on South Division Street.
"Everyone goes through their own life's evolution and that's why this is a play so many audiences can relate to," said Bogetch, who was born and raised in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago.
"I was very interested in this role because I've had my own journey. I started out as a school teacher and then at age 42, decided I wanted to be a stage actress and it worked. It's not always been easy, but I wouldn't change anything."
While her first public stage role was a small part as a housekeeper in "My Fair Lady" at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire in July 1987, she credits Pullinsi and his former Candlelight Playhouse Dinner Theater as giving her the first "plum role."
"I'm so thrilled to be working again with Bill for this current production because I'm still so grateful to him for taking a chance on me when right after my time in 'My Fair Lady," he cast me as Carlotta, the actress who sings 'I'm Still Here,' in his run of 'Follies,'" she said.
"I've done a number of shows here at Theatre at the Center and I love the audiences. My last production here was 'Noises Off' in 2010. And just like that show, this stage story counts the audience as such an important part of the storytelling and we plan our timing and character interaction."
In addition to the direction led by Artistic Director Pullinsi, the set designer is Jeff Bauer, with lighting design by Shelley Strasser-Holland, sound design by Barry G. Funderburg, props design by Jessie Howe and costume designs by Brenda Winstead.
"When Bill first sent me the script back in November and I read it, I had moments when I was laughing out loud because I kept thinking about my own kids and my extended family," Bogetch said.
"I have a lot of lines to remember, but they are great lines and conversations come across as very real and genuine for this family. That makes the process so much easier."