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Christmas Belles
Players By The Sea Theatre Review
If you like redneck humor, then you is going to love and think you have died and gone to hillbilly heaven when you see Players by the Sea's new play, Christmas Belles that runs through December 13th at 106 Sixth Street in Jacksonville Beach. Call 249-0289 for reservations.

This is the North Florida premiere of a play written by three talented playwrights who also co-authored the very popular Dearly Departed that has been done three times in this area. Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Woolen are as Southern as they come and their work reflects their background. If you are familiar with "The Golden Girls", Wooten wrote and produced four hundred episodes of that hit TV show.

Christmas Belles has many of the themes that redneck humor thrives on, such as dysfunctional families, promiscuity, bad body odor, jilted romances, and a whole lot more. This play has been described as wacky and tacky but is terribly funny as well.

Most of the action of the play occurs in the backstage activities room of the Tabernacle of the Lamb Church in Fayro Texas where preparations for the annual Christmas Pageant are going on. The pageant had been run for 27 years by the owner of the Boo Koo Boky flower show, Miss Geneva Musgrave (played with busybody efficiency by Gail Featheringill), but she has been replaced by the much married Honey Ray Futrelle (Brook Ann Hayes), who has returned to try to town to make amends to the townspeople for her sordid past. Honey Ray's concept of the show is to make it as flashy as her outlandish personal clothing and make up. She has added an Elvis imitator, a live sheep and flying angels.

Everything could that go wrong, does. The rented camel costume, winds up being to be a polar bear suit, most of the cast members get food poisoning from a pancake breakfast and perform a giant upchuck which threatens the success of the show.(Thankfully this takes place in another room, and we don't have to see this!!!)

There is a cast of zany characters that includes Honey Ray's sisters. Twink (Amy Allen Farmer) is allowed to help the help back stage wearing her orange jail jump suit. You see she has been incarcerated for burning down the mobile home of her former boyfriend who jilted her after a sixteen year romance. Frankie Futrelle Dubberly wobbles around the stage as she is pregnant with twins and overdue. Lee Hamby is hilarious in this role and boy; he is ready to play the lead in Hair Spray as soon as someone can get the rights to that musical.

Dana Branch makes her final stage appearance in Jacksonville as she moving to Hawaii in January. She plays Frankie's daughter Gina Jo, possibly the only close to normal person in this show. She appears in pageant as the Virgin Mary in the manger scene and she was very funny? Gary Baker, is Reverend Waverly, pastor of the church, who talks to God frequently and complains he needs a raise so he does not have to work as a part-time reindeer at a local department store. Allen Morton makes his Jacksonville debut on stage and is excellent as the dim-witted local lawman who is pressed into service to be Elvis, complete with white jump suit and a bit of pelvis pumping. Paul Rowe is Frankie's husband Dub, who works as a store Santa during the holidays. Dub has discovered the way to get the kids to move along quickly. He never washes his costume which stinks to high heaven. (It's a running joke). Bill White plays an older gentleman, who loves Christmas and walks around pulling a little red wagon, wearing any costume that is put on him. Why? Because he LOVES Christmas.

In any redneck play there has to be someone wealthy, and Joanna Vanderfolk is picture perfect as Patsy Price, the big money church donor, who dressed to the nines, does her annual reading at the pageant, but this year with unusual hilarious results. Long time musical theatre veteran, and cabaret singer, Peg Ingram, is the mystery member of this cast? Where did Ronda Lynn Lampley and her gourmet hot dogs come from and why is she now living in this small town?

This show is done in short vignettes and there are about 30 scenes in the two acts. Technical Director David Paul and light and sound operator Leewood Oakley work over time since there are snippets of songs during each blackout that include humorous Christmas songs, Elvis tunes and yes some real redneck selections. My personal favorite was "Egg Nog Boogie", a true classic.

The colorful set, with the two small travels trailers on each side of the stage, was designed by Scott Ashley. Lee Hamby co-coordinated all the equally colorful costume creations and the hair styles.

Joe Schwarz directed this fast paced show, and did an excellent job of casting it with performers that really know how to do comedy. If you are looking for a play with awe-inspiring rejoicing of the season, this is not it, but if you enjoy frivolity and hilarity, and want something to bail you out of the Christmas blues, Christmas Belles will punch your ticket. It is appropriate to say Merry Christmas and thank you to Jacksonville's remarkable theatre Santa Claus, The Community Foundation's Tom Nehl Fund whose generosity with financial support makes so many productions possible all year long. dickkerekes@yahoo.com





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