“Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help” Shines at the Human Race Theatre Company

By David Brush

In short, the Human Race’s Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a major theatrical highlight of the 2022-23 season.  

From the moment the first musical notes of the underscore arrive, we have re-entered our own wood-panelled, shag-carpeted childhoods. From there, Forgette’s beautifully rich and deeply funny twist on family drama deliberately tugs at our heartstrings and funny bones in equal measure. Directed with the careful touch of a sculptor by Margarett Perry (whose God of Carnage remains a Human Race standout) – the play moves at the pace of a great sitcom with the quick but dry wit of the great comedy writers. There is a feeling this is what acclaimed film director Greta Gerwig might do with this era-specific piece – imagine Lady Bird transported to the 70s. Because of the cinematic nature of the writing, stage direction can either support that pace or (as can often be the case) kill the needed momentum. Thankfully and joyfully, the former is true of Perry’s tight and taunt staging. The week-long saga of the Catholic O’Shea’s is narrated by eldest daughter Linda (the always remarkable Cecily Dowd). The 4th wall isn’t just broken – it is shattered as every family member has a slightly different version of the events of that week in 1973. 

There cannot be enough said of this cast. It is truly difficult to single out any performance over another as the company operates as a well-oiled machine at every turn. In addition to Dowd, the family members include matriarch Josephine (a revelatory performance by Christine Brunner), youngest daughter Becky (the absolutely charming Lizzie Huelskamp), Man of the House Mike (one of three roles played by the versatile Jason Podplesky) and Aunt Terri (a truly hilarious turn from Mierka Girten). 

The show’s design work helps to illuminate the intimacy of the O’Shea home, making the central conflict that much more palpable.  Contemporary comedy is hard; the timing alone is a challenge in the age of binge-viewing and no laugh tracks. But under the Human Race’s care, the “funny” here is rooted in truth; it is funny because it is honest. By the time the show’s self-aware epilogue arrives, you will wish you had spent more time with the O’Shea’s – because they feel like your family. Do not miss this glorious production – it is the welcome comedic salve after a grey Midwestern winter. 

Tickets and performance information for” Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help” are available at www.humanracetheatre.org or by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630, and at the Schuster Center box office. Performances continue through May 1.