The holiday season ushers in a sleigh full of traditions, including the requisite shows reflecting uplifting tales of reconciliation. That sweet sentimentality takes center stage with North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s (NRACT’s) production of Fruitcakes by Julian Wiles.
Set in a small southern town, the locals are preparing for Christmas: buying trees, baking fruitcakes, and preparing for the annual Nativity show. Of course, these residents are all charming, quirky characters who steer clear of mocking stereotypes while being cordial and inviting.
Straying into their midst is a young runaway, Jamie, who is befriended by the local Christmas tree and general store proprietor, Mack. As Jamie, Andrew Farmer is quite convincing as a tough, cynical kid who uses anger to hide his pain. Craig Johnson looks totally at ease in his delivery of an affable Mack. Together, they develop a realistic and warm chemistry that centers the show and moves the plot forward to a predictable, but satisfying conclusion.
The adult cast members provide a great deal of the humor. There is the fractious relationship between two sisters who split everything, even their house. Miss Alice (Sharon Galluzzo) and Miss Sara (Sherri Matson) are wonderfully amusing sparring partners. Mattie Sue (Melanie Carviou) offers up charming southern hospitality with a dash of zaniness. The local Sheriff (Ryan Madanick) delivers some fine comic turns with his illumination obsession. And his wife, Betty Jane (Kalynn Chambers), adds a touch of flustered hilarity in her attempts to direct the Christmas show in the midst of a chickenpox outbreak.
But what truly makes Fruitcakes such a charming piece are the younger cast members. Director Judy M. Dove seems to have used a light touch in guiding this talented troupe who perform well and seem to enjoy their roles; all bring the right measure of naturalism to their interactions with the adults. Their rehearsals for the upcoming holiday pageant, as well as a lively encounter with an electrifying pig, provide some of the most memorable funny moments.
This show is a delightful, comic reminder to pause and find joy in this time of year amid the commercial chaos. It’s a great way to start a new family holiday theater tradition.