by Jo and Frank Carey, Stevie Dawn and Matt Carter
The Farr-Best Theater
The Fleetwood Project
Directed by Stevie Dawn Carter
Assistant Director Jo Carey
Stage Manager Kellie Monahan McElroy
Technical DIrector Matt Carter
Lighting Designer Stevie Dawn Carter, PhD
Sound Designer Matt Carter
Set Builder Ryan Inlow
Light Board Operator Bryan Johnson
Spotlight Operator Cole Casey
House Manager Jennifer Muster
Publicity Photography Matt Carter
Stage Hands Kathleen McNamara, Leslie Napper, Corina Rosa
Graphic Designer/Playbill Keith Warren, KJW Photography and Design
SANTA Eugene Chandler
NOEL Nicole Morgan
DAVID Bill Lewis
KATHRYN Jennifer Hoeppner
ERICK Ryan Inlow
MIKE Micah Taylor
MAGS Ashley Hawkins
TIFF Samantha Ramirez
JULES Zoe WIlkerson
BUBBLEGUM Leslie Napper
SPRINKLES Kathleen McNamara
TOBY Corina Rosa
Reviewed Performance: 12/9/2022
Reviewed by Edna Elizabeth Ellsberry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The title Christmas Rehab, produced by the Fleetwood Project, at the Farr Best Theater in Mansfield, had me intrigued. Was this to be a musical with Amy Winehouse-inspired songs? It was not. It is, instead, family-friendly, as evidenced by the children, couples, and seniors in the audience at the opening night, and Santa is front and center. In fact, Santa, played by Eugene Chandler, introduces us to the top of the show. He explains that there are those who have lost the Christmas spirit, and he has come up with a solution. Families “win” a trip to stay at an inn on the edge of town called Darkness. Through a series of planned activities, involving all family members, they may regain their lost spirit of the season.
Santa has given the care of these families to Noel, played by Nicole Morgan, who is a bundle of nervous excitement and energy, to look after the winning family. She has several elves to assist her in this: Bubblegum, Sprinkles, and Toby, who help with the guest’s luggage, as well as act as stage crew for the production. A cute note: they are billed in the program under the cast, as Special Appearances.
The Westcott’s, a family of five, are the lucky ones who “win” the trip. David, the father. Portrayed by Bill Lewis is excited about the weekend. His wife Kathryn, (Jennifer Hoeppner) who is referred to as Dr. Westcott by anyone outside the family, is not. We next meet college-aged Mags, (Ashley Hawkins) who has brought her friends, boy-obsessed Tiff, (Samantha Ramirez), and brightly coiffed Jules (Zoe Wilkerson). We learn that the two friends have shared other Christmas holidays with the Westcotts. Mags reminds Tiff that her two unmarried brothers are off-limits The brothers, Erick (Ryan Inlow), a tax attorney, and younger brother Mike, (Micah Taylor) complete the cast.
The venue, the Farr Best Theater, a former movie house with vintage seating, presents challenges in terms of the laying area, as well as the fact that there is no backstage to speak of. The show embraces these limitations, by using the aisles to introduce us to the characters, and their baggage, (both literally and figuratively). It also works well when the characters leave the inn for their various planned activities. A curtain onstage is used to separate the lobby from the upstage dining area, and set changes made possible by that trio of elves may take place. The dining area, in fact, becomes the scene for a disastrous dinner party at the end of Act One.
Leading up to that scene, however, we learn more about the family, sibling to sibling, sibling to parents. Kathryn, the doctor, appears to be consumed with her work and is irritable with her family and non-family, both. In sharp contrast, David, the easy-going dad, is the only one who seems to welcome this holiday and seems genuinely excited at the over-the-top Christmas-decorated inn, We learn that Mags has been avoiding talking to her parents about leaving college to pursue her dreams and brought her friends with her to help buffer her parents from her. Erick, the strait-laced attorney who seems to mirror his mother in relation to his job, is given a hard time by Mike, who reminds him that in his job, what possible reason could anyone have to contact him. Mike, without a high-flying career, had the perfect girlfriend, who is not with him. When Erick asks what she is doing now, Mike’s response is one of the funniest lines in the play. After a fashion, they all settle in, until the dinner party. The conclusion of this debacle causes Noel to push a panic button, for the dreaded Plan D, the last resort. The Executive Director, Stevie Dawn Carter, offered a curtain speech before the show. This is the first original production that the theater has produced, and it is written by Carter, Matt Carter, Jo, and Frank Carey, who are also the founding members of the company. This collaborative effort referred to in the note in the program, states that this is “A group of creatives both onstage and off. A group of writers.” She related to the audience that the dinner scene echoes a scene from a holiday family dinner she attended. In a show about family, it seems appropriate to have four playwrights, helming it, and heightening stories based on truth for dramatic effect.
Families are complicated, and holidays are a difficult time to come together and suddenly revert to roles created when a family was young, Parents and children seem to settle into roles that are no longer suited to them from years past. Yet the play emphasizes that it is the rediscovery of those memories, those times shared that can, in fact, bring all these family members together again. The play uses this effectively: plying memories of Christmases past, combined with present realizations, to make sense of it all, and, one hopes, to draw a conclusion about how to accept, and move forward in the present.
The performances are uniformly solid. We get to know these characters, even if we do not know all the particulars, such as, what does David do? We are allowed to see, through a series of scenes in Act II, father and daughter, mother and son, friends with the work-obsessed son, who needs to relax sometimes. After all the secrets are revealed at the end of Act I, Act II is for revelations, a chance for us to see our inner thoughts, to go beyond appearances, and to learn something. Darkness, as an element, plays an important part in this production, because after darkness, comes light.
The program gives insight into the development of this theater company, but it cleverly includes a recipe for Elf Bait, cookies that play a part in the scenes, as well as ‘Twas the Zombie Before Christmas. Both of these ingredients figure crucially into the narrative, and it is a fun note to see them contained in the program. A small gift that audience members can take home with them after the show, to remind them of the sometimes-mislaid spirit of Christmas.
Performing at The Farr Best Theater, 109 N. Main Street, Mansfield, TX 76063
For tickets: www.thefleetwoodproject.org
December 16th, 17th and 18th Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30, Sunday Matinee performance at 2:30
Box Office (817) 913-3337