Dashing Through the Snow, this year’s holiday offering by playwright trio Jones Hope Wooten, opens on the lobby of the Snowflake Inn in Tinsel, Texas where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. (The premise is that year-round Christmas is a good thing, FYI.)
Quick back story: Asheville Community Theatre has been producing plays like The Dixie Swim Club by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten for a number of years. Jones Hope Wooten moved to Asheville more than half a decade ago; all three are originally from the South but moved to bigger cities for careers in TV writing. Among their collaborative works are Dearly Beloved (2005), Christmas Belles, Southern Hospitality, ‘Til Beth Do Us Part and The Hallelujah Girls — all of which feature strong, sassy and over-the-top Southern female characters. Many of these characters are from the Futrelle extended family (Dearly Beloved, Christmas Belles and Southern Hospitality comprise a trilogy about Futrelle sisters Honey Raye, Ronda Lynn, Twink and Frankie).
The Futrelle sisters do appear in the final act of Dashing, but they’re not the center of the play. And yet there’s much that reminds of a Futrelle family affair: People are racing madly around, half-crazed with a potent elixir of holiday stress and excitement. Decorations are garish, hair is big, outfits are loud and accents are thick.
Each act takes place on a day leading up to Christmas eve, and each day is given to a particular set of guests at the Snowflake Inn, beginning (startlingly) with “Mrs. Blitzen” (a poorly-disguised Mrs. Claus) who is rendez-vous-ing with Binky the elf. If you’re not quite ready to accept the idea of Mrs. Claus stepping out on jolly old Saint Nick, then you might also not be ready for naughty elf talk. Or an elf hiding under Mrs. Claus’ skirt.
Without giving away the ending, it’s safe to say that the scene concludes with reality (using the term loosely) more or less righted — and Dashing is quickly on to its next story, that of a brother and sister attempting to reunite two elderly, eccentric and feuding aunts.
Here is where Betsy Puckett puts in a stellar performance as the mop-wielding, maniacal Ennis. Ennis, in her support stockings, rat’s nest of a wig and bevy of cleaning supplies gets one of the biggest audience laughs. Hope Jones Wooten have a way with elderly female characters (Wooten’s credits include The Golden Girls). But what’s even more remarkable is that Puckett appears in the final scene as sexy, scantily-clad Honey Raye Futrelle, earning just as many laughs for her unlucky-in-love temptress role.
The third act features Delina Hensley (who has three parts in Dashing) as a delightfully pompous actress who, with cohort Eric Mills, gives a high-spirited send up of theater cliches. The two put on a “shamelessly abridged” version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that is a highlight of the play.
Ending with the Futrelles and their mad romp through family, romance and the holiday season is a strong choice. The play wraps with an element of cheesy sentimentality, but amidst the strung lights, sequined dresses and snappy one-liners (“I get enough exercise just pushing my luck”) it’s pitch-perfect.
Cast: Beverly Todd as Trina, Cary Nichols as Cuddles, Bradshaw Call as Binky, Matthew Harper as Hoyt, Emily Miller as Donna Jo, Betsy Puckett as Ennis and Honey Raye, Ruth Planey as Della, Eric Mills as Ainsley, Delina Hensley as Lenora, Rhonda Lou and Lou Ida, Alex McPherson as Paulette, Ruth Butler as Frankie, Debbie Gurriere as Twink, Frank Salvo as Raynerd and Jeff Neese as Mr. Boykin.
Crew: technical direction by Jill Summers, scenis design by Rob Berls, costume Design by Deborah Austin, lighting design by Jeff Neese, properties design by Misha Schmiedecke, sound design by Adam Cohen and Susan Maley as stage manager.
Dashing Through the Snow runs through Sunday, Dec. 4 at Asheville Community Theatre. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. No performance on Friday, Nov. 25. $22, $19 and $12.