First Fertle

Pop quiz: Name the funniest family in Texas.

If you said "the Fertles," go to the head of the class.

Hailing from the fictional town of Dumpster, the lovable Fertle family is the creation of Steve Farrell, his wife, Vicki, and Rich Mills. This trio has been the backbone of Radio Music Theatre for the last two decades, but they've just made the announcement that they're going to call it quits. But don't worry, things move slowly in the town of Dumpster -- they won't take their final bow until five years down the road.

"It's kind of helpful in terms of organizing our lives to pick a point where we can see an end and have a fresh start or some kind of rebirth," says Steve Farrell. So they're planning to go out with a bang, producing all 14 of the Fertle family plays for one last run.

First up is Last Night at Orabella's. As Dumpster's favorite icehouse closes, all the mainstay characters from the series make their debut all over again when they arrive to bid farewell to their beloved dancehall and beer joint.

And just where do these wacky characters come from? Well, they're based upon Steve Farrell's Chariton, Iowa, relatives. The non-theatergoing ones, that is.

"I get great satisfaction out of writing about them," he says, "because the ones who don't come to theater are the main targets, so the theatergoing Farrells thoroughly enjoy seeing what I do." The real-life "Fertles" have never left Chariton.

Perhaps the best part of the series: All of the residents of Dumpster are played by the same three actors. "We were doing comedy for a long time in sketch form, and it was a natural extension to go to full-length plays," says Steve Farrell. "In a sketch we would wind up playing ten or 12 characters, so I thought, 'Why not play that many but all within the same story line?' That's how it began, more as an experiment. We thought it would be a fun departure. It's turned out to be great." Not to mention hilarious.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover