I’m still processing MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET that has just closed today out at Virginia Rep’s Hanover Tavern venue. If you didn’t see it, you missed something special. It was incredibly well acted by some of Richmond’s finest and directed without fuss but with great care by Debra Clinton. Among the many minor critical reactions I had was that Terrie Powers’ set was exceptional in the way it was completely organic and welcoming, a situation where a great deal of work went into making something that ends up easily overlooked.

Back to the processing: MIRACLE’S story could be taken in simply as entertainment -- a family full of interesting and well-rendered personalities deals with a fundamental challenge to its collective identity. Watching these actors -- Catherine Shaffner, Audra Honaker, John Mincks and Donna Marie Miller -- ping off of each other was certainly a delight. But the play also explores themes that continue to percolate in my subconscious in a way tied specifically to the end of the year.

There is a cascading series of surprises revealed in this show. Each of the characters reacts to the surprises in different ways, e.g., one is shocked and appalled while another feels vindicated and reassured. There is fervent push-back against the revelations but ultimately the truths that come out have to be synthesized and accepted.

Abstracting to the bigger picture, there is no escaping surprises in life. I’m sure each of us has had to deal with at least one huge surprise over the past year, whether in the personal, professional, or political spheres. Things haven’t gone as expected or disasters have erupted unexpectedly. In those moments or as those situations develop, each of us is tested: we can turn inside, we can lash out, we can break down, we can step up. Sometimes how we react is immediate and instinctual, sometimes it’s a decision that we have to make over and over again.

So many powerful elements are embedded in theater and in human storytelling in general. One of those elements involves presenting examples. You can leave MIRACLE thinking: well, that was fun. Or you can leave it wondering: how would I react to such unsettling discoveries? Who am I like when it comes to responding to challenges? What behaviors can I aspire to? In a comedic positive way, MIRACLE provides examples for responding to challenges of identity and faith and personal mythology.

I’m going to be thinking of example setting as we head into the New Year. The challenges of 2017 are likely to be matched or even surpassed by 2018. You can turn to so many places for direction or inspiration on how to respond to those challenges: your faith, your family, your Facebook feed, etc. I’d suggest you might look to Richmond’s stages for some ideas as well.

Best wishes to all and Happy New Year!

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