For those who have no clue where Fayro, Texas, is, and wouldn't know an ostentatious, loud-mouthed Futrelle from a hole in the wall, well, it's not too late. The play, which made its world premiere at Asheville Community Theatre on Friday, Nov. 16, stands on its own as a laugh-out-loud, often over-the-top family-friendly event.
Penned by writing team (and recent Asheville transplants) Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, Hospitality is chock-full of Southern charm, offbeat characters and small-town quirkiness. It's also stocked with punchy one-liners, the trademark of these seasoned writers. Jones coauthored the popular play Dearly Departed; Hope worked as director of casting for New York's Theatre Communications Group and Chicago's Goodman Theatre; and Wooten wrote and produced TV shows like For Your Love, Half & Half and The Golden Girls. (It's worth noting that Golden Girl Rue McClanahan was in the audience for Hospitality's opening night, along with Night Court's Harry Anderson.)
Previous Futrelle family installments Dearly Beloved and Christmas Belles introduced audiences to a full cast of unforgettable personalities, not the least of which are sisters Honey Raye, Ronda Lynn, Twink and Frankie. The adult siblings are surrounded by grown children who can't quite leave the nest, husbands in need of constant supervision, friends who tend to be more a part of the problem than the solution, and a few key arch rivals.
Hospitality picks up five years after Belles, with middle-aged couple Frankie and Dub raising preschool twins while grown daughter G.J. faces her own marital troubles with husband Justin, a preacher. Meanwhile, their beloved Fayro is facing hard times as businesses close down and longtime residents move away. In a desperate bid to save their way of life, the Futrelles embark on an ambitious plan to woo a salsa factory with a down-home festival.
The great thing about this family is that they never let reality get in their way. Re-enact a Civil War battle in a locale that never saw action? No problem: They'll just borrow a battle from neighboring Mississippi. Need funds to support a set of afterthought twins? Try sucking up to curmudgeonly old aunt Iney (delightfully performed by veteran actress Shirley Cohen). Hubby accidentally gambles away the family car? There's always freelance cow-inseminating to earn extra cash.
If there is a weak point to Hospitality, it's that the show starts out silly and quickly escalates to pure camp. Jokes are rapid fire and sometimes predictable, but (like TV sitcoms) that's also the charm. The production is meant to be cozily funny and aims for nothing higher than sheer entertainment -- and if the packed house at ACT is anything to go by, that's a perfectly worthy goal.
As in Belles, Frank Salvo's portrayal of village idiot savant Reynard steals the show. Roger Magendie also delivers a standout performance as midlife-crisis-riddled Dub Dubberly, and the lavish set alone is worth the price of admission.
While Hospitality isn't a holiday-themed play as such, it's a great performance for the whole family (or out-of-town guests) and proves that, for a small city, Asheville's able to pull some major theatrical talent.
who: Southern Hospitality
what: Final play in heart-warming comedy trilogy
when: Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 2 at 2:30 p.m. ($22/adults, $19/students and seniors, $12/children. 254-1320)