BWW Review: Ring in The Holidays with The City Theatre's CHRISTMAS BELLES

BWW Review: Ring in The Holidays with The City Theatre's CHRISTMAS BELLES

It's Christmas time in Fayro Texas and the Futrelle sisters as usual, just can't seem to catch a break. The second in a trilogy from playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, CHRISTMAS BELLES finds the middle aged sisters in the center of all sorts of chaos. Chaos in the situation comedy vein by way of Green Acres, the Beverly Hillbillies or Petticoat Junction. If you're from the South you know these people in all their home spun splendor and corn pone charm. This Christmas finds Honey Raye Futrelle (Christina Manley) spiffing up her questionable reputation by directing the Christmas play for The Tabernacle of The Lamb Church. Her sister Twink (Dawn Erin) has been legally sprung from the pokey thanks to the enamored sheriff John Curtis (Beau Paul). Honey Raye's other sister Frankie (Dawn Erin) is pregnant with her second set of twins at middle age. She's already raised one set. It's no wonder she talks to her deceased mother so often. Frankie's husband Dub (R. Michael Clinkscales) is busy playing Santa Claus to make ends meet for their growing family. Their grown daughter Gina Jo (Cassidy Timms) is doing a great job of simultaneously helping Honey Raye and avoiding the young minister, Justin Waverly (Ty Wylie), who plans on popping the question to her. The whole family gets in on helping with the pageant of course, joined by the eager to please Rhonda Lynn (Robyn Gammill) the town's florist and bus depot manager, Miss Geneva Musgrave (Nikki Bora) simpleton Raynerd (Brent Rose) and Fayro's wealthy high falutin' Patsy Price (Danielle Bondurant).

Nothing goes as planned, of course. Honey Raye's production goes down the drain as her guest stars change their plans to be there, a polar bear costume is delivered instead of a camel, Gina Jo eats her own engagement ring, Dub passes a kidney stone, two thirds of the cast gets food poisoning and Geneva Musgrave, who had been directing the show for the last twenty seven years, attempts to save the day despite Honey Raye's objections. It should come as no surprise that Frankie goes into labor on Christmas Eve, the night of the pageant.

The JonesHopeWooten formula is on full display in CHRISTMAS BELLES, and the script is written in perfect situation comedy fashion. It makes sense given this trio has a pedigreed background in writing for television. This gives some of the characters a lack of plausibility. That's hardly a speedbump on the road to success, as this play, along with the two others in this trilogy is one of the most produced plays in the country.

CHRISTMAS BELLES is, figuratively speaking, a runaway locomotive, gathering steam that ends in a hysterical wreck. Pacing is critical. It's a show wherein giving the note, "faster, louder, funnier" isn't just a punchline. In this production however, frequent and slow scene changes hinder the pacing, which in turn creates an obstacle for building tension that brings us to the disastrous hilarious conclusion of Honey Raye's Christmas pageant. Director Jessica McMichael has a strong cast, but the scene design is awkward and keeping the pace around this unfortunate design is frustrating. Pacing is a challenge throughout this production, overshadowing the possibility of much sharper individual performances and strong ensemble.

It's also a trick to give these characters heart and realism in the middle of an overload of HeeHaw humor. If you've lived in Texas for any time at all you realize these characters really are based on people one comes to endear. For the most part, everyone in this cast gives these two dimensional characters a surprising authenticity. Cassidy Timms is ridiculously adorable as Gina Jo, her squeaky cute voice cracking in all the right places. Ty Wylie as her suitor gives Justin a genuine earnestness that isn't saccharine. Beau Paul avoids the temptation to stereotype the Sheriff, and Christina Manley shines, her just-about-to-fly-off-the-handle pacing and tension are a great lead to follow for the rest of the cast. And any production of CHRISTMAS BELLES might be defined by how an actor plays the simpleton Reynard. In a production with this much broad comedy, this character could fall into dangerously offensive characterization, but Brent Rose effectively navigates his way through the story, and provides us with an honest and loving portrayal.

Despite its flaws, the City Theatre's production of CHRISTMAS BELLES kept its audience engaged and laughing. In Fayro, there's a charming and pleasant climate where even the worst disputes can be resolved with a bit of hope and optimism. And the cast accomplishes its job of bringing light and fun to the holiday season. We can all use a bit of that.

CHRISTMAS BELLES

by Jones Hope Wooten

December 1 - 30.

Thursday - Saturday 8:00 pm. Sunday 3:00 pm.

No shows December 18 - 27.

The City Theatre

3823 Airport Blvd.

Austin 78722.

General Seating $15.

Front/2nd Row Reserved $20-25.

Thursday all seats $10.

Tickets at the door $20. Group and student discounts.

Tickets 512-524-2870 or info@citytheatreaustin.org.

www.citytheatreaustin.org

Photo Credit: Aleks Ortynski

Running time: Two hours with a fifteen minute intermission

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From This Author Joni Lorraine

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