Christmas in the fictional town of Fayro, Texas, is unlike Christmas anywhere else in the world — one can hope. At least that’s so when the Futrelle sisters have anything to do with it. Columbus Community Theatre brings Frankie, Twink and Honey Raye Futrelle back to the Golden Triangle in a production of “Christmas Belles” Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at the Columbus Arts Council’s Rosenzweig Arts Center. The farcical play is by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten.
Audiences first met the squabbling sisters in May 2017, in CCT’s production of “Dearly Beloved.” As the curtain closed, we learned that Frankie was expecting. “Christmas Belles” picks up months later to find a cranky Frankie weeks overdue for the birth of twins. Twink, recently jilted and bitter about it, is in jail for inadvertently burning down half the town. Honey Raye is rather desperately trying to keep the Tabernacle of the Lamb’s Christmas program from descending into chaos. It all adds up to a comedic experience filled with holiday hijinks — and kidney stones, poisonous pancakes and a surly Santa. Whether audience members first met the Futrelles in last year’s “Dearly Beloved,” or are seeing them for the first time in “Christmas Belles,” there is plenty of fodder for laughter.
“This is such a warm-hearted, funny story that it gets you in the spirit of Christmas,” said director Melanie Rogers Tubbs, who also directed “Dearly Beloved.” “I really like that it weaves some traditional moments with some funny pop culture things that are happening.”
Eleven cast members keep the story lively and flamboyant. The Futrelle sisters are portrayed by Ashley Gressett, as Frankie; Chelsea Petty, as Twink; and Midge Maloney, as Honey Raye. Spence Andrews, Linda Bobbitt, Brian Carter, Eric Chase, Cherri Golden, Vicki Hill, Anna Pierce and Austen Taylor join them.
Terry and David Coffey serve as stage and lighting managers. Kelly Cantrell is assistant stage manager. Caroline and David Hintz assist the crew.
Ashley Gressett reprises her role as Frankie. “This is the first time I’ve ever been in a play where I was the same character again, and it’s interesting to see how she’s developed over the past ‘nine months,’ to get to see more and more of the whole family dynamic together. … Frankie is frustrated because she’s pregnant and overdue, and her husband, Dub, is pretending to be Santa but is having kidney stones. Her sisters are driving her crazy, as usual.”
Brian Carter is making his stage debut in this production. The Prattville, Alabama, native moved to Columbus about two years ago from Montgomery, Alabama. He was encouraged to audition by Shane Tubbs, whose wife directs the play. Shane has frequently acted in area productions. He and Carter work together at Express Oil in east Columbus.
“I’ve never considered doing anything like this before,” said Carter. “If someone had asked me a couple of years ago, I’d have looked at them and laughed. I’ve had kind of a stage fright thing, but since I’ve been working at Express, I’ve gotten more used to being in front of and talking to people, so I thought, why not?”
He describes his character, Raynerd Chisum, as being similar to the Linus character in “Peanuts.”
“Maybe a little slow, but he’s really a sweet dude, a super nice guy — and he loves Christmas. Everything he does is well-intended, but events don’t always turn out so well.”
That may be putting it mildly when it comes to Fayro, where Honey Raye Futrelle wants to polish up the family name by putting on the best-ever Christmas pageant. Ousted pageant director Miss Geneva (Cherri Golden) is ruthless in her attempts to regain control of the show, and when the pageant cast starts dropping like flies with a stomach bug and Frankie lets slip a family secret that’s been guarded for decades, Honey Raye’s hopes seem to be falling apart. But in Futrelle fashion, the sisters find a way to pull it together and put on a program no one in Fayro will ever forget.
Gresset said, “There’s always so much happening this time of year — choir concerts, nativities — but this is a different kind of entertainment, good for the whole family, but also a cool date night.”
Any theatrical production is a testament to the commitment of its cast and crew, but getting a play ready for public consumption in the middle of the holidays can be daunting.
“The biggest challenge with this was having Thanksgiving coming in the middle of the rehearsal schedule,” said Tubbs, who holds bachelor’s degrees in social work and in communications, with an emphasis in theater. She also has a master’s degree in social work. She taught homeschool theater for many years and has acted in and directed numerous area productions.
“We were determined to have it all prepared before Thanksgiving break,” she said. “I pushed hard, and we met those deadlines to be able to have this production in the holiday season.”
Rewards are satisfying.
“There’s nothing like starting with a group of people and making a piece of written literature come to life on stage — the camaraderie among the people who participate, rehearsing, getting to know one another and having a good time, working hard and having a final product that is not only beneficial to you, but to the community, something other people can enjoy. … I just think it’s a service to the community, giving a piece of theater to entertain and to bring everyone together.”
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, plus 2 p.m. Saturday, at the Columbus Art Council’s Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St. Tickets for arts council members are $15 in advance; $17 at the door. Non-member tickets are $20 in advance; $22 at the door. Seating is limited. Get tickets at columbus-arts.org, at 501 Main St., or by calling the CAC, 662-328-2787 (closed Mondays).
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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