Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 5, 2013

The first three acts of Salisbury resident Jenny Hubbard’s new play “OrnaMENTAL” introduces the audience to three unique groups of women.
There’s the local Red Hat Society made up of women in their 70s, there’s the book club that consists of 40-somethings and then there’s a group of women in their 20s who have made it their mission to embrace the concept of recycling.
“The premise of the play is that there’s a Christmas tree decorating contest in a small southern town and these groups of women sign up to compete,” Hubbard said. “I’m playing around with the idea of the stages of women’s friendships at different ages.”
Hubbard said the concept for the play’s plot came from Salisbury artist Clyde.
“Every time I see him, he gives me an idea,” she said. “This time last year he asked if I had been down to the Arc’s Festival of Trees at the Trolley Barn and I said no, I hadn’t.
“He said I should go because I would find it funny and interesting.”
Hubbard said she never made it down to the festival, but the idea stayed with her.
“I thought the idea of a Christmas tree decorating contest would be something that people could relate to not only because it happens here, but because people spend a lot of time and energy decorating at home,” she said. “I thought it was a good opportunity for humor and a good opportunity for a holiday play that tells a different sort of story because we all know ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,’ those standards people love.”
The judges who assess the trees are introduced during the final scene of Hubbard’s play.
“I’m really interested in the concept of judgment and the role that it plays in women’s friendships,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard said the Christmas trees can be seen as metaphors for the women in the play.
“I wanted to sort of explore this idea of how women adorn themselves and what it says about us,” she said. “There’s a fine line between what’s decorative and what’s essential.
“The trees are, in some ways, extensions of the self.”
“OrnaMENTAL,” which opens Friday at Lee Street Theater & Performing Art Center, will be performed as a staged reading.
“To do a full production of it would take a lot more time and a lot more money,” Hubbard said.
The six women who star in the play will only rehearse with director Marla Brown, executive director of The Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius, four times before its debut.
“I wanted women who have jobs, families and other things going on in their lives to come and audition,” Hubbard said. “It can be tough to commit yourself to a play that’s going to have six weeks of rehearsals.
“When I worked on ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore,’ I saw a need for short-term creative projects.”
Hubbard said it was that play, written by Nora and Delia Ephron, inspired her to write “OrnaMENTAL.”
“After I was in ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore,’ I realized there is a real need for plays by women for women,” she said. “Within the two or three weeks we rehearsed and performed, the group of us became like sisters and when it was over we really missed each other and kept trying to find excuses to get back together.
“I decided I would write a play for us or at least one that they could help me with.”
Funding for the play comes from a regional artist project grant Hubbard received from the N.C. Arts & Science Council.
During the performances, Hubbard will be collecting donations for the Salisbury Family Crisis Council.
“In the play itself the Christmas tree contest is a fundraiser for the battered women’s shelter,” she said. “I just thought with it being the holidays this is a good time to highlight a vital service.”
Hubbard, along with the actors and director, will host a short audience feedback session each night following the play.
“It is so hard for playwrights to get their work produced, so I feel really fortunate to have that opportunity not only to get feedback from the actresses, but also from the people who are going to see it,” she said.