NOTES FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
One of my first directing jobs, when I was only 17 years old, was to direct my church’s annual Christmas Pageant. Just why this was entrusted to me, I don’t remember—perhaps by that time I was known for my crazy projects—at 14 I’d directed a film called the Battle of Ft. Motte featuring all my friends who acted out the real Revolutionary War battle that had given our small community of Ft. Motte its name. Later I began to be enamored with Jim Henson and his Muppets which were just beginning to take the country by storm. I built puppets out of foam and got my grandmother to help me to costume them.
At any rate I decided the Christmas Pageant wouldn’t be the same old bathrobe drama—it would be a full-scale extravaganza. It would feature live actors, marionettes and rear screen animated projections of King Herod that I hand drew and photographed image by image—several hundred in all. The biggest problem with the production was the tyrannical director—me! To say that directing had gone to my head would not be an understatement—in fact the final dress rehearsal was a nightmare for I arrived at the rehearsal right after outpatient surgery for an ingrown toenail. As the painkillers wore off, my temper flared, and I’m lucky the cast didn’t walk out on me—I’m sure they wanted to. But miracle of miracles the show was a hit and all was forgiven—or mostly forgiven.
Fruitcakes is not really about those events; they were probably too unbelievable to put on stage. But Fruitcakes pays homage to my growing up in a small town—actually it wasn’t even a small town, it was a small cotton farming community. While there can be something confining about growing up in a rural community, there is a sense that people are always there for you —no matter who you are or how eccentric you might be. It is that acceptance that I sought to capture in Fruitcakes.
The impetus for the play came from two old maid aunts of my friend Mel Marvin who lived in Green Pond, SC. They had inherited a house together, but had built a wall down the middle of the house to make two completely separately living quarters. You had to go outside to enter the other’s “apartment”. Other than this odd division of the house, these two elderly sisters got along quite well, but I wondered what might happen if they didn’t get along. That led to the plot device of having them stay together for their annual fruitcake baking—their mother having given each of them only half of the fruitcake recipe, swearing each to secrecy, so they had to get together each Christmas, make their halves and then mix them together to make the whole recipe. Soon I added a runaway city kid, a lonely old man, and a down-home country character named “Beebo” who decorated his house each Christmas with 10,000 Christmas tree lights—decorations highlighted with Buster the Christmas Hog.
The show evolved over several productions at Charleston Stage (it was originally called “Twelve Days of Christmas” and had 12 scenes, one for each day but over time scenes were combined and the show tightened up. When Dramatic Publishing published the show, I wondered if this story of a nutty, but warm- hearted southern community would play in other parts of the country but Buster the Christmas Hog seems to have delighted audiences all over—even as far away as Newfoundland.
And on our farm in Ft. Motte, South Carolina where our family still gathers to celebrate Christmas each year, a wooden Christmas tree ornament of Buster, is always at the top of our tree, right below the star.