Company can’t quite pull off stage ‘Miracle’

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
November 29, 2001

Doris Walker is not a happy woman when we meet her in “Miracle on 34th Street.” Abandoned by her husband, she juggles her career as an events coordinator at Macy’s while raising a precocious daughter, who is growing up to be just like her. Doris has no time for a social life or, apparently, shopping. She is frazzled, tired and–even sadder for a Macy’s employee–badly dressed.

But who’s got the time to take advantage of an employee discount when you’ve got “a holiday to run,” as Doris points out.

Her life begins to change when she hires a sweet old man to play Santa at her store. He says his name is Kris Kringle and he refuses to promote the store’s suggested toy list to the kids who stop by to visit. He spreads the message of goodwill to the children, and he also tells their parents that they can find some toys cheaper at Macy’s.

This behavior drives the Type-A Doris insane. But not nearly as much as when her 10-year-old daughter Susan begins believing that Kris Kringle really is Santa Claus, too. Though she has been taught by her mother that Santa doesn’t exist, Susan can’t resist asking old St. Nick for something she doesn’t think her mother can deliver: a house of their own, and a father.

Never mind that the perfect dad already is living in the same apartment complex as the Walkers: Fred, a lawyer who spends more time looking after Susan than he does at his law firm. He also is in serious “like” with Doris, who views him as little more than a next-door eunuch.

This production, now at the intimate, 350-seat Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, is a cute holiday play, but also a little bland for the youngsters. Like “Grease,” it has to compete with the memory of the famous ’40s film version, which is far more entertaining.

You might think this would work better as a musical, but “Here’s Love” (the 1963 musical adaptation of “Miracle”) wasn’t exactly a smash hit, either.

The actors do what they can with the familiar plot. Beth Lacke is appropriately stressed out as Doris, Fred Zimmerman is a convincing Kris Kringle and 9-year-old Charlotte MacKinnon is adorable as Susan. Unfortunately, the child’s lines at times are inaudible, especially during the first act.

The producers have updated the 50-year-old play to include references to DVD players, but its basic message remains the same: that a little delusional belief isn’t bad. Oh, yeah–and that a woman can be truly happy only when she has the love of a good man.

By the play’s end, we’re never sure why Doris suddenly falls in love with Fred. Is it because, as he says, “Faith is believing something when common sense tells you not to”? Or maybe because he proves in court that Kris Kringle really is Santa Claus? Or possibly because she wants to provide a family for her daughter? If she had an epiphany about him, it would’ve been nice if the audience had been in on it, too.

David Cromer’s direction at times is uneven, especially during the second act, when the courtroom scenes flicker between light and dark for no apparent reason. It’s disconcerting and detracts from what’s happening onstage.

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