Human beings want to believe in miracles. They want to believe they are special enough that a supreme being would notice their needs and do something to improve their lives. But miracles sometimes create problems rather than solve them.
Such is the case for the main characters in The Ritz Players' summer production, "Messiah on the Frigidaire" by John Culbertson. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. July 21 and 2 p.m. July 22 on the main stage at The Ritz Theatre.
The action is set in a trailer park in the small town of Elroy, S.C. Most residents in the Bible belt town work hard and struggle to remain solvent. Never mind getting ahead.
The audience is introduced to Lou Ann and Dwayne Hightower, who have a huge refrigerator on their front porch and a neighbor who has trimmed a hedge to look like Disney characters. Mandy Wolber and Jason Jerisha, both of Findlay, are cast as the Hightowers. Ashley Hushour of Chatfield portrays Lou Ann's best friend and neighbor, Betsy.
As the two women talk, Lou Ann expresses discontent at her ordinary life and wonders whether she and her husband have anything left to look forward to. No one in town will lend them enough money to start a business. Betsy says at least Lou Ann's refrigerator is the envy of the neighborhood. Lou Ann had won it in a drawing and then couldn't get it through the door, hence its position on the porch.
It is evening, and the street lights are coming on, casting new shadows on the door of the appliance. The friends notice what looks like a man's face - not just any face, but the face of Jesus Christ.
Lou Ann said she has been praying to discover her purpose in life. Maybe this is "a sign" God is listening. When they call Dwayne out to observe, he says it looks like Willie Nelson.
To get an "expert" opinion, Lou Ann contacts her Baptist minister, Rev. Cecil Hodges, played by Rick Frederick. He says he does believe in miracles, but he would rather not be involved. Over the years, he has tried to build an active congregation with high-profile members of the community. They might not appreciate his association with such an effort and join another church.
Lou Ann is crestfallen and questions "Why would Jesus come here, anyway?"
Dwayne doesn't have much use for church-going. He has his own hilarious "theory" about the creation story and Jesus' family tree. On a beer run, he picks up a copy of The National Investigator and reads about a mysterious cross that has drawn crowds of people to another community. Maybe this apparition at his home is the ticket for him and Lou Ann to move up to something better.
He decides to contact the magazine and report their own "miracle" in hopes of going public.
Dwayne's plan alarms Lou Ann, who doesn't want "to make God mad." Dwayne is so excited about it, though, that she agrees to cooperate.
He has a week to prepare before the article appears in the next issue of the magazine. The first problem is the concession stand. Dwayne wants to serve wine, but he can't get a liquor license in his residential neighborhood. Lou Ann says not to worry, because Baptists don't drink anyway.
When the article does appear in print, it has a fake photo and exaggerated reports of thousands of pilgrims and a voice coming from the image. Dwayne prepares for a huge crowd. The old adage, "Be careful what you wish for" applies to Act II as people flock to the trailer to view the vision of Jesus. The Hightowers have cordoned off their porch, and their back yard has become a commode. The anti-abortion and pro-abortion factions have gotten into a scuffle.
Before long, Rev. Hodges shows up with Larry Williamson, a businessman the three friends despise. Dale Depew plays the conniving Larry.
The two men do not to complain about the crowds but commend the Hightowers for bringing so much tourism to the town. They encourage the couple to keep people coming (and spending) by sharing "messages" from the image with the crowd. Betsy volunteers to do the honors and get a bit of revenge on Larry.
The comedy turns more dramatic as the stress wears down Lou Ann. When she threatens to prune the hedge and destroy the apparition, Dwayne becomes angry and warns her not to spoil what he sees as good thing.
The shocking behavior of a woman and her son (portrayed by Vanessa Cook and Jackson Cook) sends Lou Ann into a tirade. Then a mysterious stranger (Bob Dougherty) shows up to calm her.
A few more plot twists evolve before the ending, which may leave some viewers unsatisfied - much like real life. The characters learn much about themselves, their values, their virtues and their lowly place in the bigger picture. Maybe humans need to rely on power from within, as well as from above, and not wait for miracles to solve life's mysteries.
As the stranger says, God often works in unexpected ways.