The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022

Review: VWCT production holiday tonic

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten are among America’s most popular playwrights and their “Southern-fried” comedies have long been a staple of Van Wert Civic Theatre.

Binky the Elf (Travis Nihiser) and Cuddles/Mrs. Claus (Amber Evans) in a tender moment during VWCT’s production of Dashing Through the Snow. Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

Authors of past VWCT productions The Dixie Swim Club and The Red Velvet Cake War, Jones Hope Wooten, as the writing team is mostly known, has also authored VWCT’s new Christmas show, Dashing Through the Snow, a two-act play made up of four vignettes with quirky Christmas-related themes.

The one on-stage link in all four plays is Trina Wolcott (Amy McConn), who plays the harried and harassed owner of a bed and breakfast in Tinsel, Texas, to a “T”, while two other off-stage characters, Mr. Boykin (Burdette Bolenbaugh), supposedly a National Bed and Breakfast Association reviewer whose blackmail demands threaten to drive Trina over the edge, and Lou Ida (Lisa Eichler), the housekeeper and cook whose whiny complaints and pithy comments sprinkle several scenes, are also crucial leavening for Dashing Through the Snow’s comedic pastry.

The first scene features Cuddles (Amber Evans) and Binky (Travis Nihiser), aliases of Mrs. Claus and one of Santa’s elves, ostensibly, who have arrived at the B&B for a clandestine affair. I won’t spoil the fun on this scene but the situation gets more than a little strange before it ends amicably, more or less.

Both actors do a excellent job of providing the nuances needed to portray the North Pole lovers (or are they?).

The next three scenes provide examples of the Jones Hope Wooten formula of providing quirky characters in crazy situations.

Scene 2 features Hoyt Ledford (Trent Gossett) and Donna Jo Austin (Jennifer Rigdon) as a brother and sister who are attempting to end a decades-long feud between two of their aunts, Ennis Puckett (Terry Plas) and Della Crowder (Ann Nussbaum) — a feud that has forced the family to schedule separate holiday events for each aunt because they can’t stand to be in the same room.

Gossett and Rigdon do a great job of portraying siblings who are exasperated by their feuding aunts, but also have their own issues to deal with. Plas and Nussbaum are also excellent as the aunts, who won’t speak to each other, but are a little fuzzy about why.

The third scene features a couple of hammy actors, Ainsley Danforth and Lenora Benedict, played to the hilt (and then some) by Ken Markward and Amber Evans, who have come to the B&B for a performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — and to bury the ashes of a now deceased colleague.

People will definitely not want to miss the couple’s “much-abridged” version of the Dickens classic, as performed by the two over-the-top actors. It’s a hoot and a half and earned a loud ovation from the Patrons Night audience. The only other character in the scene is their assistant, Paulette Coogan (Alexis Gossett), who is able to hold her own, at least most of the time, with the scene-stealing thespians.

The fourth and final scene takes the craziness to a new level as four sisters gather at the B&B for a quickie sixth wedding — and the second time around for her intended, Rabbit — of Honey Raye Futrelle (Dolores Foreman). Rigdon and Plas show up again, as sisters Frankie Futrelle Dubberly (Rigdon) and Twink Futrelle Buntner (Plas), while Eichler gets a stint on-stage this time as oldest sister Rhonda Lynn Lampley.

Needless to say, the three already married sisters are driven to distraction by their ditzy sibling’s manic march to the altar. All four do a great job of portraying some real crazy characters, while the costumes provided for them by costume designer Mary Ann Falk and cast members are a sight to see.

All in all, the co-directing team of Falk and Steve Lane, both known for their own excellent comedic timing, have done a great job of inspiring a cast of veterans and newcomers to produce another classic VWCT version of a Jones Hope Wooten comedy.

The show is a super tonic for those already overwhelmed with the commercial craziness of the holiday season and a play well worth watching for Jones Hope Wooten’s writing and excellent performances from the cast.

Several VWCT vets handled the technical aspects of the show, with Falk and Bolenbaugh providing lighting and sound design, respectively, and Lane and Falk coming up with the simple, but effective, design for the play’s only set showing the B&B’s lobby.

Dashing Through the Snow continues tonight, Saturday, and Sunday, and next week (December 6-9). Evening performances begin at 8 p.m., while the two Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling the VWCT Box Office at 419.238.9689 Monday through Friday, from 2-6 p.m., as well as Saturdays during the show.

POSTED: 11/30/18 at 9:26 am. FILED UNDER: News