A Texas-sized Holiday Comedy

by Jess Herrera

It’s the mad dash before the holidays. Malls are buzzing with last-minute shoppers, and people are frantically trying to check everyone off their lists. But, tucked in the lower level of the Tucson Mall, there’s a different bit of holiday chaos — Dashing Through The Snow.

This, the latest production by the Arizona Rose Theatre Company, introduces us to an ensemble cast through a series of four vignettes set in the days leading up to Christmas. The acts, directed by Stephanie Howell, are all tied together by their location: the Snowflake Inn, a Christmas-themed bed and breakfast found in the tiny town of Tinsel, Texas.

The set design for Dashing Through The Snow is worth recognizing. Mark Balta, Ruben Rosthenhausler, Brandon Howell, and Luke Howell did an excellent job of creating a cozy, albeit incredibly kitschy atmosphere. Every inch that could be decked was covered with Christmas decor. It was gaudy and borderline garish — the perfect depiction of the holiday setting.

Each scene was a complete storyline on its own, giving the ensemble cast equal billing in the production. Only the innkeeper Trina Wolcott, played by Teresa Shade, appeared in all acts. Shade played her character well, mixing both syrupy sweet hospitality with some real Texas attitude — all while holding a sing-songy drawl and a smile.

In the first scene, we meet Cuddles (Diana Ouradnik) and Binky (Ruben Rosthenhausler). Cuddles looks suspiciously like Mrs. Claus and Binky an elf. They’re having a secret affair, and using the Snowflake in as their rendezvous spot. Ouradnik and Rosthenhausler each played their parts so convincingly it was almost difficult to watch.

Next arrive Hoyt (Cameron Hendrix) and Donna Jo (Stephanie Howell), a brother and sister hoping to reconnect their aunts that have been feuding for 35 years. The eccentric aunts, Ennis (Annie Koepf) and Della (Regina Ford), absolutely stole the show. Both Koepf and Ford were a delight to watch, and their witty banter had the audience rolling.

It was exciting to see mature characters portrayed with such wit and candor, a credit to both the play’s writing and the actresses’ wonderful depictions.

In the second act, we meet Ainsley (Daniel Hagberg) and Leonora (Diana Ouradnik). The two traveling actors are on an illicit mission to spread a friend’s ashes in the backyard of the inn. Full of hilarious and overly dramatic flourishes, they work to distract the innkeeper and their stage manager (Karen Alexander) to complete their task without being caught.

In the final scene the Snowflake Inn becomes the setting of a wedding. Three sisters, Twink (Leah Rosthenhausler), Frankie (Karen Alexander), and Rhonda Lynn (Rae Williams) are scrambling to put together last-minute nuptials for their sister Honey Raye (Anne Butman). This is her sixth time at the altar, and it’s all being planned in just a matter of hours. Without dresses, decorations, or food, the madness is palpable. The women come together gloriously, and Raynerd (Cameron Hendrix), the angel in the church nativity recruited to help, delivered some of the best lines in the show.

In true Texas fashion, the play is full of outlandish characters and lots of southern charm.

That said, it’s worth noting that the play was billed as a family-friendly production. Unfortunately the subject matter was not appropriate for younger audience members, and most of the jokes went right over their heads. There was even a disclaimer at the top of the show about the first act, which was certainly confusing for the handful of kids watching. The nearly two-hour runtime was also too long for the youngest viewers, who got restless.

Despite this misstep, the comedy was perfect for adult viewers. Each scene was filled with truly funny moments, and the actors were a joy to watch.

 Dashing Through The Snow has completed its run at the Arizona Rose Theatre, but you can find out more about future productions by calling (520) 888-0509 or visiting www.arizonarosetheatre.com.