The No. 1 TV show of 1973 was Norman Lear’s iconic, Emmy-winning “All in the Family.” Also fittingly set in 1973 is Seattle playwright Katie Forgette’s nostalgic comedy “Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” an equally relatable account of a close-knit clan lovingly coping with chaos, feuds and prickly personalities.
Currently receiving a superb local premiere at the Loft Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company and breezily directed by Margarett Perry with astute sitcom sensibilities, “Incident” is a semi-autobiographical memory play (akin to Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”) concerning the cash-strapped, Irish Catholic O’Shea family. The O’Sheas are trying to make ends meet while dealing with the fallout of 19-year-old Linda explaining the birds and the bees to her younger sister, Becky. When Father Lovett, the parish priest, overhears their frank conversation, he confronts Linda’s parents about “the corruption of their eldest daughter’s very soul.”
In addition to Eric Moore’s excellent scenic design including a neighborhood backdrop and Janet G. Powell’s fashionable period attire, here are five reasons why you should catch this must-see production, which aptly concludes with a nod to the legacy of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Cecily Dowd as narrator extraordinaire
Returning to the Loft stage for the first time since 2016′s “One Slight Hitch,” Centerville High School and Muse Machine alumna Cecily Dowd is a luminous Linda. From her very first, joyous greeting, she pulls the audience into the play with delightfully casual ease and humorous warmth. Her delivery of the pivotal birds and the bees exchange is approached with hilariously nonchalant speed, but she also exhibits lovely tenderness in Act 2 when Linda recalls another unexpected challenge that allows her time to grow closer to her mother, Josephine.
Christine Brunner as the hard-working matriarch
Human Race resident artist Christine Brunner delivers one of her finest performances as Josephine, the hard-working matriarch who wrote piano concertos in her youth but is now consumed with baking cupcakes and taking care of her grumpy, invalid mother-in-law. The striking magnitude of Brunner’s portrayal begins in the ever-supportive Edith Bunker mold. By the end of Act 1, she marvelously transforms in the fiery vein of Florida Evans when Josephine hears surprising news about Linda and thrillingly raises her voice in disbelief at the top of Act 2.
Jason Podplesky shines in multiple roles
Seamlessly navigating three roles, the reliably versatile Jason Podplesky returns to the Loft to offer standout work in one of his most physical performances. He’s Archie Bunker personified as loud-mouthed patriarch Mike O’Shea, but there are more impressive, character-specific layers within his tightly-wound, judgmental portrayal of Father Lovett and his deliciously condescending embodiment of aggravating parish busybody Betty Heckenbach.
Lizzie Huelskamp as the old-school younger sister
In her lighthearted Human Race debut, Lizzie Huelskamp provides kooky charm as Becky, a devotee of classic films who is very fond of her new tape recorder which figures prominently in the household dysfunction. Huelskamp also embraces Becky’s quirky childlike inquisitiveness without seeming contrived, cloying or grating.
Mierka Girten as the loyal aunt and protector
As proud liberal Theresa (Terri) Carmichael, Linda’s aunt and Josephine’s sister going through a rough patch with her estranged husband, Mierka Girten offers a remarkably earthy and expressive performance. In addition to her sharp delivery of witty zingers, she’s a fierce force to be reckoned with late in Act 2 opposite Podplesky when Terri debates the Bible with Father Lovett and cleverly leads him down memory lane to his utter chagrin. Girten’s outstanding portrayal, one of the best of the season, is simply unforgettable.
HOW TO GO
What: “Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help”
When: Through May 1; Performances are 8 p.m. Apr. 21-23 and 28-30; 2 p.m. Apr. 24 and May 1; and 7 p.m. Apr. 19, 20, 26 and 27
Where: Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton
Tickets: 937-228-3630 or visit humanracetheatre.org
FYI: The production is recommended for ages 16 and up; Also, a “While We’re On The Subject” talk-back with the cast and crew is slated April 24 after the 2 p.m. matinee.