Community Rebuilds homeowner Zach Ahrens, left, welcomes student interns and visitors to his new straw-bale house on Friday, Dec. 11, as Community Rebuilds Executive Director Emily Niehaus, right, arranges a display. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

Emily Niehaus has a fun and slightly mischievous sense of humor, but as the executive director of Community Rebuilds, she doesn’t always have the chance to show it.

As a playwright, though, she can let loose, and her wit is one of the obvious highlights of this year’s “Miracle on First North” fundraiser for Community Rebuilds.

The two evenings of live theater return to the Moab Arts and Recreation Center at 111 E. 100 North on Friday, Dec. 18, and Saturday, Dec. 19. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and the show is set to start at 7 p.m. both nights.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the nonprofit group, which helps low-income residents build affordable straw-bale homes. And the event itself will give Community Rebuilds a respite from its usual focus.

“Affordable housing is such a hard topic to deal with,” Niehaus said. “It’s not fun. This is a way that our organization gets to have fun, make a little bit of money and have a celebration before the end of the year.”

This year’s “Miracle on First North” will feature a reading from David Sedaris’ “Holidays on Ice,” as well as a performance of “Christmas Breaks.” That mini-play’s title takes on a double meaning, as a man breaks up with his girlfriend during the holiday season.

Kaki Hunter will also talk about pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, and last but not least, local thespian Doni Kiffmeyer and others will perform “The Elf, The Mensch, and The Grinch,” an original play that Niehaus wrote.

The 10-minute show is a mash-up of children’s stories “The Elf on the Shelf” and “The Mensch on a Bench,” and envisions what happens when the two characters meet for the first time.

“What happens is they get into a really big fight,” Niehaus said.

Fortunately for them, an unexpected hero played by Kiffmeyer comes along and saves the day.

Niehaus found inspiration in those who become upset when people offer them seemingly innocuous season’s greetings like “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.”

“I always think about poking fun at all of us,” she said.

The performances will feature some colorful language, so parents should exercise caution in bringing young children along with them.

“I wouldn’t want Oscar, my 6-year-old son, to go, because he so believes in the magic (of the season),” Niehaus said.

Grand County Council member Mary McGann has a small part in the play, and she agrees that it’s tailored toward older audiences.

“It’s not a Charlie Brown Christmas-type play,” McGann said. “It’s tongue in cheek, with some adult humor.”

Niehaus’ wit – and the quality of her writing – drew McGann back to “Miracle on First North.”

“People are really going to enjoy it,” she said. “It’s thought-provoking; it’s fun; it’s a little bit of a spoof of the commercialism of Christmas.”

This year, McGann has a dual role: In addition to performing in Niehaus’ play, she’ll also be presiding over a game of chance during intermission on both nights.

“You will pay to spin a spinner to find out whether you’re naughty or nice,” McGann said.

In addition to the performances and games, the fundraiser will feature a holiday party, including a silent night auction, a raffle and drinks. Milt’s Stop and Eat is also catering a holiday dinner with a menu that features tomato bisque and latkes, among other things.

All in all, it’s likely to be the liveliest spot in town during one of the slowest times of year in Moab.

“There is just nothing else going on in town, other than private holiday parties,” Niehaus said.

By paying $15 or more for a ticket, Niehaus said that residents have an easy way to support Community Rebuilds, which celebrated the completion of its two newest homes just last week.

As a former loan officer, Niehaus noticed that people who were seeking loans to purchase fixer-upper mobile homes could not qualify for conventional loans. In other cases, people already living in the mobile homes sought refinancing, but were turned down.

In response, Niehaus launched Community Rebuilds, which replaces dilapidated trailers with new, energy-efficient straw-bale homes, while recycling as much as possible from the existing structures.

Families who are interested in the program must fall below the low-income limits based on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development criteria. In addition, at least one family member must be employed full-time, with a two-year employment history in his or her community.

Community Rebuilds offers families free consultations to help them obtain low-interest rate loans for the homes. Construction costs are kept low, in part, through the combined labor of the group’s staff and unpaid interns who earn college credit and a stipend.

Costs are also reduced by using as many donated building materials as possible. Straw-bale insulation reduces future costs in heating and cooling, thereby continuing the affordability of the homes long after they’re built.

Performances benefit Community Rebuilds

“This is a way that our organization gets to have fun, make a little bit of money and have a celebration before the end of the year.”

When: Friday, Dec. 18, and Saturday, Dec. 19; doors open at 6:30 p.m. and shows start at 7 p.m.

Where: Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North

Cost: $15; Tickets are available exclusively at Back of Beyond Books, and at the door. Proceeds benefit Community Rebuilds

Information: 435-260-0501

For more information, call 435-260-0501, or go to