Theater review: The Red Velvet Cake War at HART

Leslie Lang, Kristen Hedberg and Tabitha Judy in The Red Velvet Cake War. Photo courtesy of HART

If you enjoy Southern-fried comedy, plucked right out of a family reunion in a Texas trailer park, then Haywood Arts Regional Theatre’s 2016 season opener, The Red Velvet Cake War, is right up your alley. Written by the venerable comedy team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten (the writers behind theFutrelle Family Texas Trilogy), this could be a tale of familial dysfunction plucked right out of The Jerry Springer Show in its heyday.

HART veteran director Judy Dybwad has assembled a cast of fresh faces from the local community alongside noted professional actors who flesh out the Bodeen family characters. Strother Stingley plays patriarch Aubrey as he approaches his 90th birthday, and dispatches advice in a whimsically wise manner. Stingley is a gifted comedic performer and steals every scene he’s in.

As the tomboyish Jimmie Wyvette, Kristen Hedberg is another standout. She trades her musical theater leanings for a rascally performance as the more mischievous of the three cousins who are the central focus of the show.

Leslie Lang’s Gaynelle is trying to stay clear of trouble after trying to run down her ex-husband’s new girlfriend. Lang gives the role some gusto, as Gaynelle heads further down a path of trouble. Meanwhile, and a one-eyed wigmaker and bait salesman named Newt Blaylock (played by Kier Klepzig) pursues her affections after love at first sight.

Add to that list Susan Rudniak, who gives a great performance as the shrink who arrives at just the wrong time.

The hijinks escalate at every turn. Gaynelle bets her house in a wager with snooty relative LaMerle Verdeen Minshew (played with a “Church Lady”-reminiscent charm by Ruth Butler). Their bet: Who can bake the best red velvet cake for the family reunion. A secret recipe buried in a time capsule, a nosy Sheriff and a small town reality TV celebrity add to the mix, building new layers of comedy confection. Holly Cope is an inspired casting choice as Cee Cee Windham. Her talk show helps frame the events surrounding the Bodeen family. Their reunion, it turns out, is a heaping serving of bean dishes, two red velvet cakes and Texas heat that fries nerves and tries the patience of all involved.

It is curious that the show never actually presents any red velvet cakes on stage, and that the stage is essentially bare but for furniture. Some limitations in the theater’s sound system may have muted some of the laughs on opening night, too. Still, the show has a lot of humor and charm, and the cast give it their all.

WHAT: The Red Velvet Cake War
WHERE: Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, Harttheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, April 17. Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. $16-$24

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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