We know this family before a single actor enters the stage, thanks to the scenic design of G. Warren Stiles. As we wait for "Miracle on South Division Street" to begin at Peninsula Players Theatre, we're greeted to the sight of a kitchen that hasn't been remodeled since perhaps the late 1960s but is well-kept and clean. The sturdy old refrigerator is covered with photos of children and young adults.
Because we know this family, we're not surprised to find only son Jimmy at the kitchen table repairing an old toaster as the story begins - "Why don't you get a new one, Ma?" Later he'll start work on the ailing 1960s-era vacuum cleaner.
Jimmy is the one who helps around the house; Ruth is the creative and introspective daughter who has called a family meeting; shortly we will meet Beverly, the other daughter, who must break off from bowling practice to see what the heck Ruth wants them to talk about.
And in the center of it all is Clara, their mother, who maintains a cheerful front and has trained them all to maintain the family's shrine. Clara's father erected the shrine and its statue of the beautiful lady after telling all about his encounter with the Blessed Mother in his barber shop, where she conveyed a message to live in peace. Clara has instilled the belief that her father's descendents have a duty to preserve the story and convey it to the rest of the world.
Before Ruth's meeting can begin - we're waiting for Beverly - the family conversation introduces us to the children's hopes and needs (and a few secrets). And after Bev arrives, we recognize the grown children's squabbles because we have lived through similar little fights and teases.
Once Ruth finally gets everyone's attention, the family's world is turned upside down and the secrets come out in increasingly funny and heartwarming ways.
Director Kristine Thatcher has guided a wonderful ensemble - Peggy Roeder as Clara, Erin Noel Grennan as Ruth, Joe Foust as Jimmy, and Molly Glynn as Beverly - into creating a believable working-class family with a remarkable story that is even more remarkable than they ever suspected.
The script by Tom Dudzick gives each member of the family a dream and a purpose, and the actors bring them to life with energy and charm. The audience members' smiles, glistening eyes and curtain-call standing ovation were duly earned.
This is a short play, barely 80 minutes, that takes place mostly in one scene, with a short coda at the end that reveals a significant addition to the collection of photos on the fridge and hints at where the family goes from here.
A visit to Peninsula Players Theatre is always magical, from the bonfire along the shore to the world-class theater experience. With just two weeks left in the season, "Miracle on South Division Street" is a warm antidote to these chillier fall evenings.