When the image of Jesus shows up on a refrigerator in a trailer park in the fictional town of Elroy, South Carolina, the reaction is mixed.
The cast of eight in the play “Messiah on the Frigidaire” will bring those reactions to life at the Theatre of the Republic, running Nov. 3-5 and 10-12.
Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. Sunday performances are at 3 p.m.
The theatre is at 331 Main St. in Conway.
The $23 tickets are available at the box office Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., online at www.theatreoftherepublic.com or by phone at 843-488-0821.
The play’s plot revolves around Lou Ann Hightower, who discovers the apparition, her husband Dwayne, who wants to exploit it, and her best friend Betsy, who pretends to get messages from the image.
“This is a very funny play with some very funny lines,” said Guy Dozier, who plays Cecil Hodges, the pastor of Elroy’s First Baptist Church. “Some of it is hilarious.”
Dozier, an advertising rep at Waccamaw Publishers, explained that the minister didn’t want to get involved.
“But, at the same time, the mayor and half the city that goes to his church want to get in on this cash cow,” Dozier said.
Canterbury Apartments leasing agent Whitney Dodenhoff plays Lou Ann Hightower, who is conflicted, especially when the National Investigator newspaper turns the situation into a front-page event, and the small town of Elroy makes headlines.
Jonathon Barker, an English professor at Horry Georgetown Technical College, plays Lou Ann’s husband Dwayne Hightower, who thinks this get-rich quick scheme might be the one he’s been waiting for.
Waccamaw Publisher’s VISIT! editor Kristyn Winch, a veteran actor with the theatre, is directing the two-act play.
Casting was the hardest part of that venture into directing, she said, but added it’s been an exciting departure from acting, and one she’d like to do again.
Winch, who serves on the theatre’s board of directors, has acted in several productions at the theatre, and took home the 2016 Torry award for best featured actress in a musical for her role in “Sister Act.”
She did a little directing in college, but “Messiah on the Frigidaire” is her first venture into full-length play directing.
Not knowing who would show up to audition, having to tell some people “no,” and hoping she ultimately cast the right actors was challenging, she said.
She explained that a director’s role is more involved than telling actors where to stand or how loud to speak.
“It’s about showing the motivation behind their actions,” she said. “Why are they moving like that? Which word should be emphasized? What is the emotion behind their lines?”
For Barker, that means portraying Dwayne as the angry, resentful and somewhat bitter soul that he is, “but still making him likable and not nasty.”
Barker auditioned for the role – his first lead at the local theatre – because the script looked like a lot of fun.
“When I got the part, I thought it was so cool,” he said. “Then when I saw all my lines, I thought, ‘Oh crap.’”
Dodenhoff, whose role is her first lead, said she’s worked hard to depict Lou Ann “without making her come off as whiny and dramatic.”
And for Dozier, who’s been with the TOR since the early 1980s, bringing the clergyman to life is a matter of “getting it right.”
“Sometimes I say a line five or six times to punch this word or that one because I want the audience to understand. Is it better this way or that way? You always have to try to perfect it,” he explained.
While “Messiah on the Frigidaire” is billed as a comedy, Dodenhoff said there’s a moral to it also. A spiritual theme runs through it, without being disrespectful or sacrilegious.
“I’m a Christian, and I feel very comfortable with it. It’s funny and light hearted,” she said.
The actress said the play addresses issues many Christians actually have.
“There’s a part where the character questions why God allows bad things to happen, and every person deals with that,” she said.
“Lou Ann is struggling with her faith on some level, but I don’t get the idea that in any way the play is making fun of Christians or Christianity,” he said.
The actors hope those coming to see the show will ultimately enjoy it.
“I want people to be entertained,” Dozier said. “I want people to leave having enjoyed it.”
Dodenhoff added, “I also want them to come away from this with the moral to the story.
“That,” she said, “is to be grateful for what we have.”