"Christmas Belles" Production Will Ring with Laughter

Comedy and Christmas combine wonderfully in "Christmas Belles," being presented by Grove Players as its 2017-'18 season opener. This play was written by collaborators Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, the one-woman-and-two-guys team that also penned "The Dixie Swim Club," a Grove Players' audience favorite from last season.

This writing trio is prolific and successful, with writing credits spanning stage, the big screen, and television, including "The Golden Girls" TV series. Individually and as a team, the three have won a great deal of recognition for their work. Wooten, for example, has won a Writers Guild of America Award.

The "Christmas Belles" in the title of this holiday romp are, of course, Southern, sisters, and "silly" - at times- while also being, at heart, decent human beings whose finer qualities ultimately shine forth.

They are the three Futrelle sisters of Fayro, Texas. The plot revolves around their antics and those of the cast and crew during preparations for the town's annual Christmas program.

Directing this production for Grove Players is its current president, Steven Merkel, a forty-year resident of Downers Grove. He has extensive experience as a director, although this is his directing debut with Grove Players. He has previously directed "several programs, one-acts, and actor scene studies for park districts and churches," he explained. He has also co-directed productions of "The Miracle Worker" in a couple of nearby suburbs.

While Merkel's directing experience alone would qualify him for piloting this play, his expertise in numerous other areas doesn't hurt, either. He has had roles in a variety of plays from dramas to musicals, so can easily relate to the actors he directs. His involvement in theater also enables him to judge the appeal of particular plays, and "Christmas Belles," Merkel contends, is hilarious.

"It offers a simple, uncomplicated romp in comedy with a holiday backdrop," he commented. Further, he stated, he found himself drawn to "what is essentially a safe and harmless dream that we all may have; we all just want to be heard and loved." When we make mistakes in our attempts to make that dream a reality, though, "we all wish for second chances," Merkel said.

The plot that brings that theme to life is filled with quirky characters, snappy one-liner dialogue and farcical events. Frankie Futrelle Dubberly, the youngest sister, played by Nina Trader of Wood Dale, is pregnant with twins, but less than thrilled about it since the expected twins will be her second such set. Her sister Twink, the middle one, played by Rebecca Leitschuh of Downers Grove, is in jail for accidentally burning down part of the town.

The oldest of the three is Honey Raye Futrelle, brought to life by Becky Mattson of Villa Park. Honey Raye is struggling to pull together what would be the town's 28th Christmas program. She is up against a string of challenges presented by her rival, Miss Geneva Musgrave, the ousted previous director of all 27 past productions, who is also the town florist. That role is enacted by Lynda Porter of Lisle.

Alas, Honey Raye's troubles don't stop there. How she deals with her predecessor, plus fallout from the disclosure of a long-held family secret, a Santa with a health issue, a wayward shepherd, and food poisoning among the cast, among other things - all only partly offset by the benefit of having an Elvis impersonator in the Nativity scene - is a heartwarming, hilarious tale audiences won't want to miss.

Rounding out the cast are: Stephanie Svarz of Naperville as Gina Jo Dubberly, Frankie's daughter; Darrin Hernandez of Downers Grove as John Curtiss Buntner, the deputy sheriff; Vickie Shargo, also of Downers Grove, as Patsy Price, a local society matron; Stan Staszak of Frankfurt as Frankie's husband and Gina Jo's Dad; Brenda Gilmore of Plainfield as Rhonda Lynn Lampley, manager of The Dairy Dog; Tom Gessof Indian Head Park as Justin Waverly, the interim pastor at the church hosting the Christmas program, and Jon Stricker of Naperville as Raynerd Chisum, part-time employee at The Dairy Dog.

Eric Mattson of Villa Park serves as Assistant Director, while Rachel Lopez of Broadview is Stage Manager and Rusty Steiger of Lemont is the Executive Producer.

The show opens Fri., Nov. 10, and runs two weekends, Fridays and Saturdays, November 10, 11, 17, and 18, 2017, at 8 pm, and Sundays, November 12 and 19 at 2 pm. Performances are held at Lincoln Center, 935 Maple Ave., Downers Grove, IL.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. They may be purchased in person at the theater on performance nights, at Lincoln Center M-F during the day, or at Evelyn Jane Boutique, 1008 Curtiss St. in downtown Downers Grove.

They can also be bought by calling 630-415-3682 or online through the Grove Players website, www.groveplayers.org. For more information, call the above number or e-mail dgroveplayers@gmail.com.

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