The inhabitants of the small town of McCord’s Ferry, Ga. may have been eating fruitcake for a little too long. Mix a poetry-reciting fisherman/ex-Harvard engineer with a Christmas tree-selling whirligig maker, two spinster sisters who divided their home precisely down the middle and a Christmas hog named Buster, and you have all the nuts necessary to make the hundreds of fruitcakes the town eats every Christmas.
When a teenaged runaway ends up in the town, he thinks the inhabitants are “nuttier than fruitcakes” in the Whidbey Playhouse production of “Fruitcakes,” running Nov. 30 through Dec. 22.
From the beginning, it’s obvious “Fruitcakes” is going to be quite an experience. With a set featuring a wreath made from a tire, a Christmas ornament dangling from antlers and a tin sign reading “Royal Crown Soda: Best by Taste Test,” the audience is in for an entertaining show.
Mack Morgan, played by Kevin Wm. Meyer, owns a whirligig shop and takes orders from the townspeople for goods, including ordering some help from “Mr. Jack Daniels” for Miss Alice’s and Miss Sara’s annual batch of fruitcakes. When runaway Jamie, played by Garrett Stahl, ends up in Mack’s barn, he takes the boy under his wing.
Miss Alice, played by Rusty Hendrix, and Miss Sara, played by Julia Locke, are elderly sisters who, after their mother died, divided their house right down the middle — including through the kitchen tablecloth. Sometimes, their differences seem irreconcilable and Miss Sara constantly becomes irritated with her sister. Miss Alice says she’d like to give her sister a piece of her mind, but she just doesn’t have a piece to spare.
Meanwhile, Betty Jane, played by Lori Stahl, attempts to direct the annual children’s Christmas pageant and loses the battle with a chicken pox epidemic, and her husband Beebo, played by Matt Montoya, works on the annual Great Illumination, the decorating and lighting of his home, with the new addition of the Christmas hog Buster.
Despite the entertaining townspeople, “Fruitcakes” delves into deeper aspects of the holidays as secrets about Mack’s past surface, paralleling Jamie’s reasons for running away from home.
“I like the fact that he’s a down home, earthy guy … but he’s got a secret,” Meyer said of playing Mack. Meyer has been in about six plays in his two years with the Playhouse.
“I like the message,” Meyer continued. “I like that everybody is a little off center but that’s normal for them … That’s what you do in life, you make accommodations for people.” Everyone is a little weird, but lovable, he said.
Meyer’s favorite part of the play is the ending. He said he cried the first time he read it and every performance since.
“I want them (the audience) to think about family and friends they have not been in touch with in awhile … I want them to think about keeping the Christmas spirit all year round,” Meyer said, adding that you don’t have to be Christian to do so. “I want people to laugh.”
Despite being forcibly tied into an apron and coerced into making fruitcakes with Miss Alice and Miss Sara, Jamie’s journey is ultimately heartwarming and relatable.
Fourteen-year-old Stahl has been in 15 plays at the Playhouse since starting his acting career at age 5. This is his first play acting with his mom, Lori Stahl.
“It was all really fun,” Garrett Stahl said, adding that he enjoyed working with everyone.
“It’s a different play. I haven’t been in a lot of plays with strange people and billions of fruitcakes,” Stahl said. “I hope they (the audience) like it so much that they see it again and again and every performance gets sold out.”
When she read the play a year ago, director Anita Rich said she “fell in love with it immediately because it evokes all the love and feelings you want to share at Christmas time.”
The message of reconciliation is meaningful, as well as the fun aspect of recognizing many of these eccentric characters as similar to people in our own lives, Rich said.
“What I hope will happen is people will see the play and then want to bring a friend and share the experience again,” Rich said. “I’m pretty sure they’ll feel warm and Christmas-y.”
This is the first play Rich has directed at the Playhouse, but she and her husband, Jim, have explored many aspects of community theater as ways to get to know their communities while in the military.
An enjoyable part of directing this play was the many children involved, Rich said.
“I think the children will be a big draw. They’re adorable,” Rich said, adding that the children developed their own amusing interludes during scene changes.
The Central Whidbey Lions Club donated and built part of the set, including Mack’s work bench, which will be donated to the Coupeville High School garden shed. The Oak Harbor Lions Club also built part of the set.
Gary Giovanni, president of the Central Whidbey Lions, built the colorful whirligigs decorating Mack’s shop.
“If you want a show to bring your whole family to, this is it. There’s nothing off-color; it’s just fun,” Meyer said. “You can talk about it when you get home and that’s the best thing a family can do.”