There is certainly a degree of bravery required in every theatre company, but in particular one which writes its own original productions. And if a theatre company writes an original play about a local business or site–well, they are really brave.
Fortunately for Trustus Theatre, their bravery paid off this past Friday night during the world premiere of A Christmas Miracle at the Richland Fashion Mall.
The Mothers is an improv sketch comedy troupe that originated at Trustus during the 1980s and recently reunited for both performance and playwriting. A Christmas Miracle at the Richland Fashion Mall is their concoction. It is a story narrated by a lonely mall janitor (Preach Jacobs) and centering around the doomed Richland Fashion Mall. When major book retailer Farnes & Foble decides to close its shop in the Richland Fashion Mall, the boisterous mall owner (Allison Allgood) decides the mall should be closed, unless its remaining retailers can come up with $30,000 in holiday profits.
The majority of the play takes place in front of two locally owned shops, the wryly named Santa’s Sack, a holiday gift store that was inherited by the, again, wryly named Noell (Krista Forster), and The Glass Menagerie, a glass figurine store owned by Laurel (Gerald Floyd) and his partner Mandy (Clayton King). Laurel and Mandy employ a spunky young shop girl, Gloria (Alyssa Velasquez), who is smitten with the assistant manager at Farnes & Foble, Darrell (Jared Rogers-Martin). Everyone loves a good story about a group of misfits banding together for a cause–and, yes, there is a super-charged montage scene straight out of a 1980s film. However, A Christmas Miracle coats an otherwise redundant theme with a uniquely dry humor that is skillfully handled by its immeasurable cast.
Indeed, after you watch A Christmas Miracle, you’ll find it’s difficult to imagine another cast carrying this tricky script, which is full of localized jokes and subtle shade between its characters. While that statement is a throw of praise to the cast, director, and writers for a job well done, this play also leaves the viewer a little sad. After all, there is no guarantee we’ll ever get a sequel. Look, I want to know what happens to Laurel, Mandy, and Noell in the long run, damn it. I felt like I got to know and love those characters (well, in truth, I felt like I wanted to be friends with all of them and participate in their infectiously snarky banter). Also, I want to know how Darrell does when he moves to the “big city of Durham” to manage another Farnes & Foble Chain. Jared Rogers-Martin made that oboe-playing, time travel-loving nerd so unbelievably lovable. He could do no wrong! And I want to know if Allison Allgood and Samuel Traquina can possibly switch costumes more often than this and play even more characters in a two-hour period than what I saw. Is there some superhero-style phone booth backstage at Trustus Theatre? Allgood is the mall owner, a gamer kid, and a deliciously wicked Farnes & Foble employee, and Traquina plays the counterpart for each of those roles. Both actors switch from character to character so seamlessly that you’ll start to wonder if perhaps they actually both belong to acting teams of very theatrically talented identical triplets. Trustus Theatre, we want more!
But that is what happens with a truly great cast. None of us in the audience really knew what we were getting into with A Christmas Miracle–after all, no one had ever seen it. It could have been a disaster. But by the end, we were all smitten with the characters. They aren’t exactly your traditional, warm-hearted Christmas carolers. (In fact, Noell actually makes a wreath that says “F*** Christmas,” which is probably why I connected most with her.) I mean, sniveling good girl Gloria does things with a large plastic candy cane that–well, we didn’t see that coming.
Gerald Floyd brings an impressive wisdom and humor to the character of Laurel; during the mall talent show, for example, he dons a hoop skirt and proudly recites his lines as a Civil War era Southern belle without breaking character. HIs chin held high, Floyd gazes out at the audience and chirps “I’ll never be dehydrated again!” with such serene sincerity that we forget he’s actually an actor in a play. Velasquez is similar in her portrayal of super energetic shopgirl Gloria; she is so over-the-top and yet so endearing and perfect. Trustus Theatre, we want more!
It did help having a narrator who could not hide his excitement for the play. Have you ever been in a grocery store and accidentally locked eyes with a child, then they smiled at you, and you couldn’t help but to smile back? That is how we felt every time Jacobs took the stage and grinned at the audience. This is a play written, produced, and acted out by Columbia folks, and it is about life in Columbia. Jacobs’s contagious enthusiasm for the mall likely touched us because there was such a degree of lovable realism underneath it all. The characters spoke in South Carolina accents and even made a few quips that only longtime Columbia residents would understand. It’s truly a play made just for Columbia theatre fans.
There are just under two weeks left to catch A Christmas Miracle at the Fashion Mall. Tickets range from $20 to $28 and may be purchased online here. The showtimes are as follows:
Wednesday, Dec. 6 – 7:30pm
Thursday, Dec. 7 – 7:30pm
Friday, Dec. 8 – 8:00 pm
Saturday, Dec. 9 – 8:00pm
Sunday, Dec. 10- 3:00pm
Wednesday, Dec. 13 – 7:30pm
Thursday, Dec. 14 – 7:30pm
Friday, Dec. 15 – 8:00pm
Saturday, Dec. 16 – 8:00pm