Opening up a book to a lewd picture of a Playboy centerfold is enough to make any actor forget his lines, but during the Maybell Plays -- where such an occurrence is common -- ad-libbing is expected.
The script is just a guideline
Participants in the Maybell Plays say rigged props are just the beginning of the practiced, yet impromptu, fun the annual event brings.
And in the 56 years the plays have been a mainstay of Maybell life, there's been a lot of fun.
Sherrie Johnson remembers serving her actor husband a spoon full of cold pancake mix instead of the stew he was expecting. Her real husband, his part calling for someone to saw a pumpkin off his head, had an indiscernible reaction when his co-actor started a chainsaw.
"We always had a good time," Johnson said. "We weren't always perfect, but people enjoy it."
Perfect isn't expected during plays known for off-the-cuff hijinks and modified lines added to involve the audience through a few well-timed zingers.
"We try to keep it family oriented," Johnson said.
This year the plays will be Feb. 27-28 at the Maybell Elementary School.
Tickets for Friday's dinner theater are sold in advance and are available at the door for Saturday's show. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. Friday with the play following. The play begins at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Johnson said the plays started nearly 60 years ago as a winter activity.
"It's become quite a tradition," she said. "It really brings the community together."
Johnson participated for eight years. Her husband, Bruce, has acted in the plays for 20 years.
Directors always choose older, Vaudeville-style plays and the volunteer participants work for nearly three months learning their parts.
"It always comes together," Johnson said.
People from as far away as Meeker and Rangely drive in to see the play and each year, the 75-80 seats set up in the school's gymnasium are generally filled for the performances.
Friday's performance has traditionally been a dinner theater with the cast cooking and serving and volunteers contributing the decadent desserts the event is known for.
"It's an experience you'll probably never forget and an experience you'll never have again in you life," Johnson said.
The plays are an economic boost for the small town. People arrive early for Saturday's performance for dinner at the Maybell Restaurant.
The plays are sponsored by the Maybell Women's Club and all proceeds are returned to the community. The Women's Club supports the area library and sponsors funeral dinners for residents.
Maybell resident Sharron Steele acted in the plays for 20 years before she took a break and switched to directing.
"You move into a community and you just get attached to all kinds of things," she said.
This year Johnson is directing "Great Smokeys," which she describes as a hillbilly play.
"I thought the cast I had fit a hillbilly play," she said. "They're playing the parts really well. I think they're having a little too much fun.
"We just have a ball every night. Every play practice was never the same."
Johnson said the plays are a good way to meet people. They're immediately intimate with the practical jokes being played both on stage and behind the scenes.
"You never know what to expect," she said. "People like it because it's not professional. If you mess up, it's OK. It's all the funnier."
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.