Story: It’s a traumatic time for Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen. Her husband has run off with his girlfriend and, in retaliation, Gaynelle has “accidentally” run her car into the double-wide trailer home of that man-stealing woman. Gaynelle subsequently faces various legal charges as well as being observed by a court-appointed psychologist checking on her sanity. All of this happens shortly before the annual Verdeen family reunion in Sweetgum, Texas, usually presided over by Gaynelle’s overbearing Aunt La Merle.
La Merle wants to cancel this year’s reunion because of Gaynelle’s scandal, but Gaynelle and her cousins, sexpot Peaches and laid-back Jimmy Wyvette, insist that the reunion go forward. Besides, Gaynelle bets her house with La Merle that she can make a better-tasting red velvet cake than her officious aunt, who annually takes home the prize for best cake. With the psychologist lurking about, an amorous suitor suddenly appearing out of nowhere and a tornado heading straight for Sweetgum, Gaynelle must learn how to bake a really good cake in a really short time period to keep ownership of her house and keep herself out of jail and the insane asylum to boot.
Highlights: It took three people, namely Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, to scribble this two-act comedy that travels some overly familiar territory, namely a wacky Southern family that’s about as smart as the sagebrush on a Texas plain. Of course, the broad caricatures allow performers to test their mettle depicting motley and outrageous characters, which can lead to some humorous moments.
Case in point with the Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s production is a wonderfully wacky turn by Julie Healey as Jimmy Wyvette, the suitably attired proprietress of Whatley’s Western Wear. Healey’s droll delivery and deliciously deadpan approach, including a galumphing gait that defies description, make this uneven adventure palatable and amusing enough to overcome shortcomings in both the script and presentation. She’s aided by Ray Shea and Tom Yager, who deliver more than their share of funny bits that help move the flimsy script along.
Other Info: Dani Mann directs with a wide brush, encouraging her players to play the broad comedy for all it’s worth, which isn’t much if you take time to think about it. There are some clever asides, though, by Yager as rascally old Uncle Aubrey Verdeen and Shea as the good-natured, one-eyed Newt Blaylock, owner of the Wig ‘n’ Worm outlet founded by his late mother. Shea is funny as the awkward but sincere Newt, who takes a shining to Gaynelle enough that he goes out and purchases a brand-new eyeball which is a size too small and pops out and about at most unfortunate moments.
Elizabeth Gasoske holds forth over the wayward Verleens as the exasperated Gaynelle, whose biggest problem is her own knack for making a bad situation worse. Cynthia Huesman has a grand time as the sexy and overly frustrated Peaches, whose trucker husband left home one night years ago and never returned, leaving her ‘needs’ unfulfilled for far too long.
Amanda Vick has fun as busybody neighbor Bitsy, who has her eyes on a recently widowed neighbor who, it happens, is also the object of affection of the latently romantic Jimmy Wyvette to the surprise and delight of her cousins. As Aunt La Merle, Suzanne Greenwald wears the role of a villainous as grandly as La Merle’s larger-than-life wig provided by wig and hair designers Margaret Withers and Ren Binder.
Maureen Riordan-Smith holds court in front of the curtain as Cee Cee Windham, a local TV celebrity who has an ongoing war with her cameramen. Rounding out the cast are Rebeca Davidson as a German (what else?) psychologist, Paul Ruppel as clumsy Sheriff Grover, Judy Lewis as Uncle Aubrey’s latest girlfriend and Jim Kistner as another challenged Verdeen kinsman.
Cherol Thibaut decks everyone out in fine Lone Star attire and Merrick Mohler designed the set of Gaynelle’s living room, which is way too clean to match the ‘filthy’ place described in the play. Nathan Schroeder designed the suitable lighting, Lee Meyer adds a nifty sound design of bluegrass and country-flavored numbers and property managers Lisa Beke and Deanna Garcia notch some clever touches, including Gaynelle’s Confederate apron and a photo of former president George W. Bush placed prominently in Gaynelle’s living room.
The Red Velvet Cake War is the type of lowbrow comedy that provides some hearty laughs if the cast is up to it enough to get past the clunky writing.
Play: The Red Velvet Cake War
Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: November 8, 9, 10, 11
Tickets: $18; contact 821-9956 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb