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A Review: ‘FrUiTcAkEs’ entertaining, comical, heart-warming

PHOTO SUBMITTED / "Gabriella the angel" is portrayed by "Sally" (Bailey Pounds) in the "McCord's Ferry Christmas Pageant," a play within the play, " FrUiTcAkEs." The Brookhaven Little Theatre holiday production is Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Haven Theatre.

PHOTO SUBMITTED / “Gabriella the angel” is portrayed by “Sally” (Bailey Pounds) in the “McCord’s Ferry Christmas Pageant,” a play within the play, ” FrUiTcAkEs.” The Brookhaven Little Theatre holiday production is Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Haven Theatre.

Editor’s Note: The following is a review of the Brookhaven Little Theatre production, “FrUiTcAkEs,” which continues this weekend at the Haven Theatre after earlier performances last week. Tickets are available at the door at $10 each.

Mix together a batch of fruitcakes, three dozen Christmas trees, 10,000 outdoor Christmas lights, a chicken pox epidemic, two southern spinsters, a poetry-quoting fisherman, a lost cat named Tutti Frutti and a Christmas hog named Buster, and you’ve got the recipe for “FrUiTcAkEs,” a comedy written by Julian Wiles and produced by Brookhaven Little Theatre at the Haven in downtown Brookhaven.

Welcome to McCord’s Ferry, stereotypical Small Town, USA, that is, indeed, rather like a fruitcake: mostly sweet with plenty of nuts. Into this world comes Jamie, a teenager who has run away from home and has gone as far as her money and her bicycle can take her. While at first she believes that the inhabitants of McCord’s Ferry are “nuttier than fruitcakes,” she comes to appreciate and admire this eccentric little town.

With an ease on stage that belies her age, Johanna Russell plays Jamie to perfection, brimming with teenage rebellion and angst. Angry at the world one minute, reflective and tender the next, Russell shows the gamut of teenage emotions as her character, at first resentful, gradually grows fond of the peculiar inhabitants of McCord’s Ferry.

First to interact with Jamie is Mack Morgan, Christmas tree salesman and whirly-gig maker, who helps Jamie avoid arrest for “grand larceny” by claiming her as his granddaughter. While not old enough to have grandchildren of his own, Matt Coleman plays Mack with ease and grandfatherly charm, handling Jamie’s rebelliousness with just the right mix of toughness and love. We see the development in these two characters as Coleman and Russell interact easily and realistically and their characters challenge each other to make a change for the better.

The Dantzler family consists of Beebo Dantzler, sheriff of McCord’s Ferry, his lovely wife Betty Jane, and their children, Little Beebo and Sally. Terry Britt is wonderful as Sheriff Dantzler, playing the role with the perfect mix of the wisdom of Andy Taylor and the humor of Barney Fife.

His better half, Betty Jane, is in charge of the annual children’s Christmas Pageant, and is charmingly portrayed by Sherri Mathis. Mathis plays Betty Jane with a bubbly enthusiasm that just doesn’t take “no” for an answer, whether from adults or from the children in the Christmas pageant. Proving to be a chip off the maternal block, Gabe Mathis is a natural as Little Beebo as he begrudgingly follows instructions from his parents, and Bailey Pounds sparkles as Sally Dantzler, proving to be quite the effervescent angel.

Mickey Ramsey and Lee Moore are brilliantly hilarious as spinster sisters Alice and Sarah. They squabble their way through the making of 1,000 fruitcakes, bickering as true siblings do. Their facial expressions speak as loudly as their lines and their comedic timing is flawless. And you better watch out for that “vanilla extract”!

Robert K. Walker, M.D., is outstanding as the loveable poetry-quoting fisherman, Skeeter, and Jack Lowery is terrific as his wise-cracking son, Little Skeeter. Susan Dunaway is delightful as Mattie Sue, who carries on conversations with herself and could rival Elizabeth Taylor in her number of ex-husbands. Rounding out the cast are Clay and Reagan Whittington, whose characters provide the surprise ending.

And then, there are the hundred or so children – OK, not 100, but their energy, volume and liveliness certainly make their scenes very exciting! Sara Jane Boyte and Braxton King are very funny as Meredith and Sammy, who are cast in the McCord’s Ferry’s Christmas pageant as Mary and Joseph, much to their mutual chagrin.

Carolyn Garcia (Laura) and Riley Whittington (Joanie) are cast as sheep, and they take their roles very seriously. Joining the flock are Katelyn Morrison and Edward Jaymus Hewitt, watched over by shepherds Megan and Jamie Garcia.

Brayden Menendez (Little Larry) heads up the Wise Men. Kaysha Register (Frances) is the Narrator, who valiantly tries be heard over the cacophony. And above it all are the angels: Elizabeth Smith (Amy) and Lily Claire Smith (Marybeth), bringing good tidings of great (and loud) joy.

Now for the folks you don’t see: the crew. These hard-working, thick-skinned, fast-thinking individuals make it possible for the onstage cast to shine. Working back-stage as prop-finders, kid-wranglers, make-up artists, and a myriad of other hyphenated jobs are Shelley Griffith, Laurin Redd and Katelyn Roberts.

Greg Russell and Emmett Johnson III deftly handle the lighting and sound boards.

The marvelous set is the handiwork of the set construction crew (Shelley Griffith, Emmett Johnson III, Will Lee, Austin Brister, Greg Russell, Terry Britt, Matt Coleman, Scott Morrison, Laurin Redd and Katelyn Roberts) the set painters (Pat Jacobs, Maxine Minter, Dixie Simmons) and set decorators (Sherri Mathis, Shelley Griffith).

And thanks to the help of Phoenix McKissack and Stuart Neal, the Grand Illumination certainly is grand!

Heading up this show is the Man-with-the-Plan, the Boss, the Fearless Leader, the talented and indomitable James Minter. While it would have been easy to encourage his cast to be over-the-top and make their characters cartoonish, Minter chose to avoid that cheap and easy road. Under Minter’s direction, the cast of “FrUiTcAkEs” gives us a picture of friends and neighbors, each portraying their character with charm, wit and affection. This down-to-earth interpretation makes the scenes all the more entertaining and comical-and heart-warming.

Congratulations to the cast and crew of “FrUiTcAkEs” for a job exceptionally well done. This is the perfect show for the holiday season. You’ll laugh a lot and maybe have a tear in your eye at the end, but you are certainly in for a fun-filled and touching evening of holiday cheer.

There are two more opportunities to see this delightful show: Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m.