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The rush of holiday shows is upon us. Starting out is the outrageous farce, “Christmas Belles”, presented by The County Seat Theater Company at the Encore! Performing Arts Center in Cloquet.
We are plunked into Fayro, East Texas among a bevy of Futrelle sisters, each vieing for the title of most exceptional. Glitzy Honey Raye (Annette Gannucci), the new director of the local annual Christmas pageant, must overcome her reputation as a vamp as she makes her directorial debut. Twink (Ruthie Zissos) finds herself all dressed in orange for Christmas. Getting back at her long-time beau for walking off with another woman, she uses poor judgment; arson means jail time.
Someone describes these sisters as “the fertile, the felon and the flirt”. Third sister, married Frankie (Jennifer House), is way overdue with twins. Her grown daughter, Gina Jo (Jodie Jurek) has vowed to her middling age parents she’ll be there for them when the babes are born. This sets up a predicament for Gina’s suitor, Pastor Justin Waverly (Jeff Anderson). How can he propose when she says they can’t talk until maybe July?
In between the throes of revenge and subdued passion, the show must go on. Not only is Honey Raye losing most of her players to a toxic pancake breakfast, including her surprise guest, Elvis, who’s puking with the best of them, she has: a Virgin Mary who’s got stage fright, a little drummer boy so mean he bites the sheep, and a shepherd who insists on pulling his shiny red wagon onto stage.
Through this all (and a lot more), Frankie’s hubby, hilarious Dub (Michael “Beatsie” Rosen), has been moonlighting as Santa, all the time with lower back pain. If anyone can convince us that passing a kidney stone is funny, it’s Rosen.
The play abounds with characters. There’s Rhonda Lynn (Colleen Biskey) who can heft as many pounds as she weighs (it’s a surprise to learn who she actually is!); Sheriff John Curtis (Frank Milder), whose meanest line is “who licked the red off your candy?”; long time and pouting, former director Geneva (Jill Hoffman) who gets called back to the production in a pinch; rich’un Patsy Price (Etta Souder) who is a ringer for my curly black-haired sister-in-law who hails from Longview and has sisters at least as outrageous as the Futrelles.
Christmas Belles Director, Cheryl Kramer-Milder, is also set designer. With hubby Frank’s effective lighting, she cleverly divies her stage: jail, ‘green room’ at the Tabernacle of the Lamb, Tabernacle chapel, the store where children soil Santa Dub so bad he “smells like a dead armadillo”. A crew of stage-hand elves working in the semi-dark are as entertaining as the show.
And the show will go on. Jodie Jurek is precious trying to be Mary. Santa is on the apron begging for someone to shoot him. Raynerd (Rick Breuer) makes good and dramatic use of his red wagon. The updated version of Geneva’s old timey Christmas pageant somehow squeaks through with all kinds of issues getting resolved.
Intermission is festive with goodies galore and show-related artwork to enjoy or buy. The woman who sat next to me won a cookie raffle; what a platterful! Online it says the show is sold out, but it’s worth a shot to give Encore! a call: 218-878-0071. Christmas Belles runs December 6-8, 7:30 pm and December 9, 2 pm.