Theater review: A holy night, Texas style, with fun, surprises and red-neck humor

Nov. 13, 2010 at 5:13 a.m.

As a kid growing up, my holidays always centered on friends and family as well as Christmas Eve pageants, food and more family.

And did I mention the drama? Or the plans gone awry? Or the out-and-out disasters?

Playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten must have been flies on our walls because their play, "Christmas Belles," now on stage at Theatre Victoria and directed by Charles Moster, perfectly captures my family's Christmas gatherings. The beauty of this production is that it puts the fun back into "dysfunction" with the universally funny quirks that are found in families across Texas and all over this nation, for that matter.

Meet the Futrelle family from Fayro, Texas - three sisters and their spouses, spouses-to-be, neighbors and other interesting members of this small-town Texas community, including Frankie Futrelle Dubberly's daughter Gina Jo (don't all Texas women have double names?), pursuing a career as a cow inseminator. There's gonna be a pageant at the Tabernacle of the Lamb church, just like every year, except this year's production will be directed by Honey Raye Futrelle rather than Geneva Musgrave, owner of the BooKoo Bokay and Greyhound Bus Terminal, who has directed the pageant for the last 27 years.

Once you know Honey Raye Futrelle has renamed the Tabernacle's pageant "the Bethlehem-a-Palooza," featuring an Elvis impersonator and a few other surprises, you can expect all matter of crazy hilarity to unfold in a fast-paced series of very, very funny vignettes, and you can expect to see glimpses of every member of your family (yes, even the eccentric ones) in this two-act, laugh-a-minute comedy.

Here's the deal: When a play is this full of well-crafted, truly funny material, the temptation is to over-play each line or fall into slapstick timing. This is not the case as Moster maintains a light touch on the show's reins and allows his talented cast to reveal the many sides of each of their characters.

Because the Futrelle sisters -- Gayle Gainer as Twink, Keisha Ringland as Honey Rae and Pauline C. Rivera as Frankie -- are at the center of this comical whirlwind, this show is more heavily weighted toward the women, especially when you add in TV veteran Ruth Stock as Geneva, Mary K. Rabe as Rhonda Lynn Lampley, TV newcomer Caitlin Klare as GJ and Christy A. Uresti as Patsy Price. But keep your eyes on the men -- James Reinhardt as Dub Dubberly, Ryan Tucker as Justin Waverly - the Tabernacle's love struck pastor, Johnny Vera as Deputy John Curtis and you won't forget Walter Womack as Reynerd Chisum.

It would be difficult to pick a favorite performance because Moster has drawn this talented cast into a tightly intertwined, top-flight ensemble delivering spirited performances from the first scene of Act One. However, suffice it to say, Friday's opening performance gifted the almost full house with a new favorite holiday classic, complete with side-splitting laughs, surprises galore, lessons in love, hope and charity and the reassurance that every family has its dysfunctions, its secrets, its embarrassments and its poignantly redeeming moments.



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