0 Days Since Last Miracle: MHSS Playwright’s Production Resurrected in Asbury Park

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0 Days Since Last Miracle: MHSS Playwright’s Production Resurrected in Asbury Park

Kelly Lozo, Staff Writer

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I had the pleasure of being invited to the second performance of 0 Days Since Last Miracle, an original play by MHSS’s own Alexis Kozak, at Black Box Asbury Park.  0 Days spans the course of one extraordinary day at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow – an all girls, Spanish Catholic high school – in which three unlikely groups of people work together to make a miracle.  But will three packets of ketchup, two cross-dressing boys, and a fake stigmata get two schoolgirls out of taking their Spanish final – or will it end up doing a whole lot more?

The show’s script is fast and witty, a necessary combination when making satirical commentary on religion, educational institutions, and the nature of belief.  Having attended Catholic school for thirteen years, Kozak has a fond relationship with the Church and so, like an older sibling might, he shows his affection through profuse and embellished teasing.  The script acted as a “kind of love letter” to Catholic schools, according to Kozak, by acknowledging and laughing at the worst aspects of the institution.  Comedy is in the business of transforming ills of the world into a format that people can identify and process.  A joke has the freedom to address issues that go unspoken in everyday life because it is offensive or unpleasant or unobserved; through humor, society can be analyzed through a lens that artificially exaggerates in order to provide an exposition.  Kozak’s play acknowledges components of the Church that are hypocritical, negligent, and corrupt, but there is never a doubt that he feels accepted and at home with the Church or that his humor comes from a place of love. The hilariously offensive material is streamlined for comedy – rather than actually posing an attack on the Church – through the profuse use of puns, witticism, and wordplay that display the playwright’s clever mind and facile humor.

Although more rehearsal time would be required to make the performance as tight and rapid as the script, it was a very impressive display for its first production.  Along with the engaging script, the cast and crew were a group of enthusiastic and highly talented individuals.   A significant portion of the staff were representatives of Middletown South: Junior Anthony Forte (Rico), art teacher Jacqui Mazza (choreography and costume design), and alumni Mel Ridgeway (Allie), PJ Benson (Paco), Allie Brand (Lisa), and Eliza Brennessel (stage manager and set designer).  However, it was the work of collaboration between many schools that brought Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow to life.  Patrice Thornton represented High School North in her role as Loretta and Kerry DeBari traveled from her school in Ocean County to play the Hermana.  Also among the cast were Liz Meinders (Yolanda), Eli Taylor (Jesus), and AJ Ciccotelli (Father Peter).  As the director, Barbra Panas worked personally with all aspects of the production, guiding the talented performers to present the written material in the best possible fashion. As the wife of Alexis Kozak, Panas was able to creatively collaborate with her husband in a way that colored both direction and narration of the show.  The combined force of their visions, coupled with the talent and intuition of the actors and crew, left the audience in stitches.

The show was, in all, an enormous success. August Wilson once said that, “If you want to support a writer, produce the first five plays he writes.” Black Box Asbury Park was one of the first places to show their support for Kozak’s particular play-writing effort, and the response has been immediate and enthusiastic. Reactions from the dramatic world outside of the Jersey Shore has been just as animated. 0 Days Since Last Miracle is already being recognized in the Miami City Theatre National Short Play Festival, and will be published by Smith & Kraus, an anthology of the Best 10-Minute Plays of 2014, this winter.

So, a big “Congratulations!” to Alexis Kozak and everyone else involved in putting 0 Days on its feet. The time, energy, and care placed into this production is palpable. And although all plays are about lies, some productions’ lies are more artful than others. The comedy that 0 Days Since Last Miracle presents is dexterous, outrageous, uproarious, and absolutely ingenious.

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