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Photo by Jerry Draper / Cast members Coylee Bryan, Carol Doucette, Donna Greenwood, Kashun Parks and Vicky Quinn, from left, rehearse a scene from "The Charitable Sisterhood Christmas Spectacular."

Just three weeks until Christmas, and there's a criminal on the loose. Someone has stolen Baby Jesus right out of his manger!

But the Charitable Sisterhood of Second Trinity Church is on the case and investigating while they also plan the church's annual Christmas Spectacular.

Oak Street Playhouse invites audiences to get in the Christmas spirit when "The Charitable Sisterhood Christmas Spectacular" opens Friday, Dec. 6.

The dinner theater production is a sequel to "The Charitable Sisterhood of the Second Trinity Victory Church," which the playhouse produced several years ago. However, audiences needn't have seen the first show to enjoy this one.

"These characters are those our audiences can relate to," said director Jerry Draper. "Who can resist a group of Southern church ladies in a church basement?

If you go

* What: “The Charitable Sisterhood Christmas Spectacular”

* Where: Flo Summitt Theatre, Oak Street Playhouse, Oak and Lindsay streets; dinner in Oak Street Center

* When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6-7 and 12-14; 1:30 p.m. Dec. 8 and 15

* Admission: $25 for dinner and play

* For more information: 800-838-3006 (option 1)

* Online: www.brownpapertickets.com (type in Oak Street Playhouse)

"As with any sequel," Draper continues, "the writer has included clues to identify the characters, to remind those who saw the first show and introduce them to new audience members. The audience, especially those who grew up in Southern churches, will recognize and identify with these characters."

Several actors are reprising their roles from the first show, and a few are new.

"Having some of the actors reprise their roles brings a certain familiarity and consistency to the show," Draper said. "However, because they [all] are so secure with their roles, it has been a smooth transition to welcome the new actors to this production.

Part of the plot concerns the annual complaint by some individuals that other people — never the speaker — are losing the true meaning of the Christmas season.

"We can all relate to getting caught up in the commercialism and forgetting what is truly important," Draper said.

He added as the actors began rehearsing, they discovered a second theme in the potential emotional abuse members can suffer intentionally or unintentionally from other members.

"One character is the widow of one of the local ministers, whose theology was nothing but 'hellfire and brimstone,'" Draper said, "and she has a very judgmental outlook on life. The Charitable Sisterhood reaches out to her to share the joy of the season."

The second act of the production is the annual Christmas show by the women's group. Draper said playwright Bo Wilson had in mind the similar show-within-a-show in Christopher Guest's mockumentary film "Waiting for Guffman."

"The skits in the Spectacular have a very amateurish vibe," he said. "The cast has had fun playing up the really 'bad' acting in these skits."

The cast includes Coylee Bryan, Carol Doucette, Donna Greenwood, Kashun Parks and Vicky Quinn with appearances by Betsy Chesney, Emily Dixon and Cindy Procious.

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