When it comes to producing a play about life in the South, one theme will be most prevalent almost always: family. That’s the bulk carrying Big Dawg Productions’ farce, “Christmas Belles,” which will open at Cape Fear Playhouse on Thursday night.
From the writers of “Dearly Departed” and “Dearly Beloved,” both of which Big Dawg produced already, “Christmas Belles” takes the audience back to Frayo, Texas. The Futrelle sisters are having a rough time getting in the holiday spirit. Frankie is weeks past due with twins, while Twink is serving time for setting the town afire. Meanwhile, Honey Raye can’t keep the cast together for their annual Christmas program performed at the Tabernacle of the Lamb. In the midst of it all, a family secret becomes common knowledge and a slew of hijinks follow suit, including the likes of an Elvis impersonator.
Once again Randy Davis will direct the Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten-written play. Davis oversaw “Dearly Beloved” at the beginning of the 2015 Big Dawg season and has secured many of the same actors to reprise their roles.
“Being a sequel, the cast and I are in a somewhat unique position for the theatre,” Davis tells. “Nine of the 11 characters in ‘Christmas Belles’ were in ‘Dearly Beloved,’ so the actors came to the read-through with most of their character work already completed.”
This time around the action centers on second chances, and how the characters are dealing with consequences. From it, farfetched situations will keep audiences agape in laughter.
“One character even points out that the theme of the Nativity is mankind’s second chance, and at this time of year, it’s important to be true to that by giving the people in our lives second chances,” Davis explains.
The two newbies of the cast, Jim Bowling and Irene Slater, will take on Raynerd Chisum and Rhonda Lynn Lampley respectively. Erika Edwards will return as Gina Jo Dubberly, a.k.a. GJ—the town sweetheart. GJ gets the lead role as Mary in the church play. It’s one of Edwards’ favorite scenes.
“G.J. has been such a pleasure to play,” Edwards says. “I think I’d like to channel more G.J. in my life, as far as taking delight in the simple things in life.”
Deb Bowen will return as Geneva. Geneva’s teaching Bowen how, despite the ups and downs, life works itself out eventually. “I love the many faces of a small Southern town,” Bowen says of the play’s appeal. “I grew up in a coastal town with such characters and love them all.”
Davis is enjoying directing the Southern farce. From 2003-2005, he worked with Opera House, Thalian Association, BUMP Productions, and as artistic director for Purple Crayon Productions. Davis left town but moved back to Wilmington in 2012 and has served on Big Dawg’s board for two years now, all the while acting, directing and helping launch Big Dawg’s touring series. Familiarity with the family in the show and the town they live in has laid most of the groundwork for “Christmas Belles” rather easily.
“The play takes place in the same fellowship hall as ‘Dearly Beloved,’” Davis explains. “So, the set is the same design as I did for the first play—but we did upgrade the hall with a new paint scheme.”
Costumes are being designed by Shawn Sproatt, who, according to the director, is “having a great time dressing them for the tragedy of a Nativity scene.” Garish Christmas sweaters and Star-Spangled angels, along with a staunch, smelly Santa costume, are included.
“The lights are being designed by Dallas LaFon, who is also our technical director,” Davis says. “He will be using lights to portray various locations around the church and the town.”
Davis equates the humor of the show to that of a “Golden Girls” episode (which is most appropriate considering playwright Wooten wrote for the famed ‘80s sitcom). “You’ll laugh uproariously, and when you aren’t paying attention, it might just bring a tear to your eye,” Davis tells.
“I think this particular Southern comedy does a great job of commenting on a lot of the things we encounter in our society,” Edwards adds. “These characters allow us to laugh at the quirks we see mirrored in ourselves.”
The show opens Thursday night with a pay-what-you-can (cash only) admission charge (minimum $5). It runs weekends through Dec. 20.