[cleeng_content id="149545807" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Old Opera House’s ‘The Red Velvet Cake
War’ is a delicious, Southern-style romp
Does the thought of your next family reunion induce night sweats? Every family, it seems, has at least one exasperating relative who tends to create alarm, dread or at least chaos. But it’s likely your family isn’t nearly as crazy – or as much fun – as the Verdeen family of Sweetgum, Texas.
The Verdeens’ annual summer get-together is at the center of the Old Opera House’s new production, “The Red Velvet Cake War,” which debuts at 8 p.m. Friday at the Charles Town theater and continues through this weekend and next.
The Southern-style comedy is the work of the playwriting team known as Jones Hope and Wooten: Jessie Jones, co-author of the funeral comedy that became the 2001 film, “Kingdom Come”; Nicholas Hope, an award-winning playwright and casting director with experience on stage and at ABC Television; and Jamie Wooten, known for his work as a writer/producer on TV’s “The Golden Girls.”
Will Heyser, who is directing “The Red Velvet Cake War” for the Old Opera House, is no stranger to Jones Hope Wooten productions. He’s acted in several of the theater’s productions of the trio’s works, including “The Hallelujah Girls,” “Southern Hospitality,” “The Dixie Swim Club,” “Christmas Belles” and “Dearly Beloved.”
Jones Hope Wooten is regarded as one of the country’s most successful, with a slew of wacky comedies that have been produced thousands of times around the nation and in countries worldwide.
Heyser said he was asked to direct the show because of his familiarity with the tone and comedic delivery needed to make this play as successful as past Jones Hope Wooten works have been with Charles Town audiences.
In “Cake,” Eileen Elliott plays self-righteous, hypercritical family matriarch La Merle Verdeen Minshew, who continues to vex her nieces even as outside events conspire to stress an already-on-the-edge Gaynelle (portrayed by Christine Brewer).
Gaynelle finds herself under scrutiny from town gossips and a court-appointed psychologist after a minivan mishap. (It seems she “accidentally” crashed her minivan through the bedroom wall of the doublewide trailer belonging to her husband’s mistress.)
“I don’t think she is really crazy,” explains Brewer with a chuckle, “but her family drives her crazy.”
As luck would have it, it’s nearly time for the big family reunion, which Gaynelle is hosting with some pushing from her cousins, Peaches (played by Carey Perkins) and Jimmie Wyvette (Amy Hebb).
The pair have decided the reunion’s success is the perfect vehicle to prove Gaynelle isn’t off her rocker. They’re also wrestling with drama of their own. Peaches, a funeral home makeup artist, is struggling to decide if it’s time to have her long-absent trucker husband declared dead and Jimmie Wyvette, a lonely, rough-around-the-edges store manager, is determined to outmaneuver a prissy neighbor for another chance at love with Sweetgum’s newest widower.
Add to the mix Aunt La Merle’s decision to launch a high-stakes red velvet cake bakeoff versus Gaynelle and – did we mention? – the reunion comes on the hottest day of summer smack-dab in the middle of tornado season.
Rico Massimino – who portrays the play’s good-natured, one-eyed Newt Blaylok, who takes an interest in one of the cousins – sees “The Red Velvet Cake War” as a story about dysfunctional families. “It’s a whole lot more true to life than you might imagine,” he said.
Elliott says the play delivers humor on
multiple fronts. “It’s both slapstick funny and full of clever, subtle humor,” she said.
“The Red Velvet Cake War” also stars Ellen Nichols (as Cee Cee Windham), Bruce Olson (Aubrey Verdeen), Heather Eney (Bitsy Hargis) Richard Hamstead (Sheriff Grover Lout), Karen Paone (Elsa Dowdall), Winky Francis (Mama Doll Hargis) and Lee Hebb (Purvis Verdeen). With mild language and adult innuendo, the Old Opera House has rated this show PG.
Want to go?
What: “The Red Velvet Cake War”
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday and again March 21, 22 and 23
Where: Old Opera House at 204 N. George St. in Charles Town
How much: Tickets start at $10 for students
For details: To reserve a seat or get more information, go online to oldoperahouse.org or call 304-725-4420[/cleeng_content]