The Towne Players’ North Carolina premiere of The Red Velvet Cake War, an uproarious Southern-fried comedy by Tarheel comic dramatists Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, is a real knee-slapper. A veteran community-theater cast, headed by the irrepressible Frances Stanley as the self-righteous town busybody LaMerle Verdeen Minshew, milk belly-laughs by the gallon from this sassy script and perform every piece of monkey business with infectious high spirits.
Stanley is a pistol as Aunt LaMerle, the Verdeen clan’s insufferable sharp-tongued matriarch who has raised meddling in family business to an art form. Jack Chapman’s genial impersonation of good-natured, oxygen-dependent 80-something family patriarch Aubrey Verdeen is another winner. Indeed, Chapman’s laidback Aubrey is the perfect foil for Stanley’s fussing and fuming LaMerle.
Sharon Pearce is a pip as 40ish Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen, who has anger-management problems. When the curtain rises on The Red Velvet Cake War, Gaynelle is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown who has just crashed her minivan into her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s girlfriend’s doublewide.
Marsha Pressley and Kelly Stansell are cute as Gaynelle’s cousins and fellow organizers of the imminent Verdeen family reunion, the saucy Peaches Verdeen Belrose and the rough-and-ready tomboy Jimmie Wyvette Verdeen, respectively. Peaches is the number-one mortuarial cosmetologist in the tricounty area, and Jimmie Wyvette is a unibrowed good ol’ girl who manages Whatley’s Western Wear.
Megan Kirkpatrick and Linda Brochin put plenty of pizzazz into their portrayals of Gaynelle’s priss-pot neighbor Bitsy Hargis and Cee Cee Windham, the chirpy hostess of the community-television show “Hospitality House,” respectively. Tim Stancil is amusing as one-eyed card-carrying Texas eccentric Newt Blaylock, and Alan Williford contributes a menacing cameo as Sweetgum, Texas’ king of mean, mirrored-sunglasses-wearing bully-with-a-badge Sheriff Grover Lout.
Ethel Webster as Gaynelle’s skeptical court-appointed psychologist Elsa Dowdall; Wanda Nicholson as Bitsy Hargis’ hot-to-trot mother, Mama Doll; and Scott Renz as dead-relative snapping amateur photographer Purvis Verdeen also help Towne Players’ artistic director Beth Honeycutt whip The Red Velvet Cake War into a tasty comic soufflé.
Towne Players’ technical director Scott Honeycutt and his director-wife and fellow production designer, Beth, fill the refurbished Garner Historic Auditorium stage with a realistic set that is, perhaps, a little too wide for some of the show’s more intimate moments; but works quite well when the cast builds up comic momentum and needs doors to slam as they run around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to save the ill-fated Verdeen family reunion from becoming the epic disaster that squinty-eyed Aunt LaMerle keeps predicting that it will be.
SECOND OPINION: April 10th Garner-Clayton Record preview by Sarah Nagem: http://www.garnerclayton.com/2011/04/10/6424/comedy-up-next-on-garner-stage.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the April 14th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/04/towne-players-present-the-n-c-premiere-of-the-red-velvet-cake-war-by-jones-hope-and-wooten/.)
The Towne Players present THE RED VELVET CAKE WAR at 8 p.m. April 22 and 2 and 8 p.m. April 23 in Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina 27529.
TICKETS: $12 ($10 students and seniors 55+).
BOX OFFICE: Tickets will be sold at the door.
INFORMATION: 919/779-6144 or http://www.towneplayers.org/pages/TickConts.shtml.
The Play: http://www.joneshopewooten.com/redvelvetcake.html (official website).
The Playwrights: http://www.joneshopewooten.com/index.html (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jones_Hope_Wooten_(Playwrights) (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.