To paraphrase a bit of country hero Forrest Gump, “Community Theatre is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get”.
It would seem logical since we have lots of holiday shows; A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and Holiday Inn to name a few, that there should be a Christmas show away from the pretense of city folks. That is the logic and inspiration behind A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas. The logic however stops there.
Country Christmas opens in Lou’s Diner in the town of mountain town of Christmas. The first to speak to us is Bob, played by Andy Nesky, sort of a Garrison Keillor / Gene Shepherd storyteller. Bob explains that his truck blew a tire while passing through Christmas on Christmas Eve and he wound up waiting at Lou’s for the repairs to be done.
By now you many have noticed this ain’t no Happy Holidays story, it’s a MERRY CHRISTMAS story.
Lou (Brianna Downs) owns the diner. Bobbie Joe (Erika Shirrell) is the cook who always seems to burn the pies and Darlene (Savannah Bruno) is the clueless ditzy waitress. All are having man trouble with current or prospective husbands. Another character who seemingly endlessly occupies the diner is Mark, son of the town’s doctor and an aspiring medical student, studying his textbooks.
Next we meet the boys, or men, or really the Three Stooges. Dave (Bruce Story-Camp) Jimmy (Adam Seligson) and Bill (Ed Bostedo) are the respective “better halves” of Bobby Jo, Lou and Darlene. The men are feeling unloved and with because their masculinity threatened they decide to go hunting on Christmas Eve. They make basecamp at some ramshackle hunting cabin /shed.
Did I mention the approaching blizzard?
A beer inspired revelation along with the blizzard makes them realize they really want to be back with their families and Jimmy with his girlfriend Darlene. But wait, Jimmy left the ignition on in the truck, the battery is dead and cell service is down.
Thankfully our trusty narrator Bob helps us keep track of all this.
Meanwhile, back at the diner, Mark spots a very pregnant young woman hanging around outside. He welcomes her inside the diner. Mary Sue arrived in Christmas by bus, which coincidentally doesn’t run on Christmas Eve. She has no family and no place to stay. Cue another pie fire and the chaos a very pregnant Mary Sue bolts out the door into the raging blizzard. Lou and Bobby Joe dispatch Mark to find her. Amazingly he does find her quite quickly; only in the blizzard he can’t tell where they are.
Meanwhile, back in the hunting shed the men, clearly having never been Boy Scouts, realize there is no food, water or firewood. So they decide to setoff in the blizzard on foot for look for the nearby animal shed they can bust apart for firewood.
Meanwhile, Mary Sue’s water breaks, Mark thinks there is an animal shed somewhere close where they can seek shelter from the blizzard.
As you would expect, the diner girls set out in the blizzard to find their men in Bob’s now repaired truck.
The rest I leave up to you to imagine. Don’t worry though; it is a Christmas story, so all ends well.
The cast approaches their roles with gusto. Comedy, and this borders on slapstick, is hard to do. There are a few moments where it clicks, such as the boys and the “Beehive” scene in the hunting shed. Lou is always telling Darlene to “calm down”, Savannah Bruno’s Darlene is perfectly ditzy and naïve, but doesn’t comes across as frantic. Lou and Bobby Joe have a nice bit in “I’m A Kiwi” song; but the choreography left me wanting a more fun interaction between the two.
Andy Nesky’s Narrator was quite folksy and believable telling the story. Unfortunately, a couple of flubbed lines broke the trance for me. The younger male singer / actors were in fine voice; their acting will undoubtedly improve.
As in the case of many community theatres with intimate performance spaces, the actors don’t always take the opportunity for a nuanced performance. Bruce Story-Camp shows off the best acting and singing chops of the cast. Director D. Palyo needed to reign in the redneck accents; they came across as forced, inconsistent and not natural.
Sets and lighting by Christopher Robin work in the space and nicely transform to the animal shed. Sometimes I felt Narrator Bob was left in the dark. Liz Civello’s costume for Darlene was just the right mix of weirdness, yet avoiding the traditional Daisy Duke’s.
A (pretty) Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas playing at the Theatre Factory in Trafford, now through December 18th. For tickets call 412-374-9200
Thanks to the Theatre Factory for the complementary tickets.