A Fertle Anniversary

Another annual Christmas pleasure in Houston comes courtesy of Radio Music Theatre. This year marks the 25th production of A Fertle Holiday. The crowd-pleasing skit-comedy show celebrates family and the difficulties of coming together for obligatory Christmas joy. Of course, the best thing about an RMT show is the cast. Headed up by Steve Farrell, who also writes all the shows, the trio of actors includes Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills. The team of three creates the entire population of Dumpster, Texas, where all the action takes place. They also make up the funny Fertle family, including a trashy sister named Justicena (Mills), a know-it-all named Lou (Steve), a brother named Earl (Mills) who's been hit in the head one too many times and a sister who got out and made it big in California, Carol (Vicki).

The small-town Texans who fill up the tiny stage at RMT keep the capacity audience hooting like "baby owls," as one character likes to say. Once all the siblings arrive home in Dumpster, fireworks spark (some are literal, as Justicena gives her bratty son a rocket launcher for Christmas). There are also the more subtle familial problems. In-laws hate each other, and the meal never turns out the way it's supposed to, except for the butter pie, which is always yummy.

One of the funniest bits includes Lou, the guy who knows just enough to make himself dangerous. He gets into it with Carol's rich, big-city husband over a game of Trivial Pursuit — the Plumbers' Edition. Lou challenges his brother-in-law to ask him anything and ends up trying to argue that "nails are glue," because they both stick things together. Farrell has the audience laughing so loud he's got to wait for them to quiet down before he dives head-first into a long, absurd explanation of the history of glue and nails that dates back to the ancients, as poor Lou tries not to get outmanned by his rich brother-in-law.

In the end, the Fertles manage to make it through one more holiday without killing each other, which is about as much as any group of relatives can hope for.

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Lee Williams