Best Bets: Kent County Theatre Guild cooks up with comedy with 'The Kitchen Witches'

By Craig Horleman
Posted 5/7/21

Start with a heaping handful of Martha Stewart, then add a whole lot of family turmoil and a dash of Jerry Springer, and you have the recipe for “The Kitchen Witches,” a comedy set to …

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Best Bets: Kent County Theatre Guild cooks up with comedy with 'The Kitchen Witches'


Start with a heaping handful of Martha Stewart, then add a whole lot of family turmoil and a dash of Jerry Springer, and you have the recipe for “The Kitchen Witches,” a comedy set to premiere tonight at the Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse in Dover.

The show marks a return to the stage for a full production by the guild since February 2020, before things shut down over concerns about the coronavirus.

In the fast-paced show, Terri Thompson plays Isobel Lomax and Patrice Owens Hartung is Dolly Biddle — two cable-access cooking show hostesses who have hated each other for 30 years, ever since Larry Biddle dated one and married the other.

When circumstances put them together on the show, called “The Kitchen Witches,” Dolly’s long-suffering TV-producer son, Stephen, played by Chris Baughan, tries to keep them on track. But as long as Dolly’s dressing room is 1 inch closer to the set than Isobel’s, it’s a losing battle. Despite the comic upheaval, the show becomes a ratings smash.

The cast of the play, set entirely in the cooking show’s studio — complete with a working applause sign — only numbers four people, with Tryston Bellon rounding out the quartet as Rob the Camera Guy.

That worked out well for COVID-19 protocols and the show’s first-time director, Jeff Bellon, who is working with consulting director and guild veteran, Patti Gatto.

“It just kind of worked out that way in that it was a show that I wanted to direct and I had the opportunity, as the guild had an opening,” the director said.

“This was a show I looked at before COVID. It just happened to work out that it was a nice, small cast. So we got a little more safety and a little more comfort with a nice, small cast. We just thought, ‘We can do something with this. Let’s do it.’”

Both Mr. Bellon and Ms. Thompson had known about the play, which was originally set in Canada.

“I read it a bunch of years ago,” said Ms. Thompson. “And I was dying to do it. It didn’t matter which character I played. I get to be a (w)itch, but I get to be fun.”

Mr. Bellon said he read the play in 2018 and was looking forward to it being the first play he directed. Then, with COVID-19 hitting, the season at the guild was disrupted last year, and it fell into place to come around now.

The play received an update last year, now with references to coronavirus, and it’s a bit more politically correct than it was originally.

“That was unexpected because I had read the old play. There weren’t significant changes, but it’s more current and a little softer. The old one was a little more on the fence. I actually think this one works a lot better,” he said.

“It’s a fun, witty comedy with an interwoven theme about family.”

Mr. Bellon, who has acted in many shows and worked on the stage crew over the last few years, was eager for his inaugural directing experience. However, he didn’t realize how hard a job it would be.

He said Ms. Gatto has offered him a great deal of assistance but that being the director at the Kent County Theatre Guild is a much more work-intensive effort than at other community theaters.

“You’re out getting paint on a random Saturday, or you’re getting a message that, ‘Hey, we need carrots for the show,’ because we have a lot of food. So we’ve got to go to the dollar store and get graham crackers or pasta. We’ve got to set up, and we’ve got to get the floor clean or tell the set people where you want the doors. So it’s all these little things I didn’t realize that were involved in being a director. And (Ms. Gatto) gracefully informed me that we get to do all that as directors, which is great,” he said.

“If I didn’t have a consulting director, half of this would have never gotten done. So it’s great having this wingperson to help guide you with years and years of experience. I was shocked by how much a director does, when before I was just memorizing lines or building a set.”

With COVID-19 limits still in effect, the audience will be cut in half for shows. So the 100-person audience will be 50 for the run.

“The cast has really good chemistry. They all seem to mesh really well. I’m very happy with them. They’ve worked extremely hard to get this, and that’s why I wish we didn’t have the limit of seats because they’ve worked so hard, and it’s such a funny show,” Mr. Bellon said.

“As a nonprofit, we’re going to maybe break even and that’s if we sell out. And that’s tough because I don’t know the comfort level for people coming. Are people willing to come and sit in a theater? I am. I have friends who are, But is everybody? I guess we’ll see.”

The guild’s Patchwork Playhouse has seen a few bits of action over the past year, with a streaming show of “Three Incompetent Jurors,” their monthly “Whoopee” playwriting evenings and improv performances.

It’s those improv nights that kept Ms. Thompson, another guild veteran, in shape for shows such as this. The cast gets to use their improvisational skills during an audience-participation segment of “The Kitchen Witches.”

“We were closed for a while, and then, we started doing improv here, and that really opened me up for something like this,” she said.

For Ms. Hartung, this is the biggest part she’s had on stage. Mr. Bellon said that during auditions, the two women had great chemistry, despite not really knowing each other nor having performed together.

“I was shocked I got the part, to be quite honest,” Ms. Hartung said.

“When I started going out for shows, I was so absolutely petrified. I’ve gotten to the point now where my husband said that auditioning for this, I was the best he’d ever seen me be. We did some improv during the audition, where we had no idea what was going on except for this little bit of the script we were given, which was very different from the script we ended up with.”

Mr. Baughan plays the son of Ms. Hartung’s character and the producer of the cooking show. He spends the entire play on stage and, in most of it, very frustrated.

“It’s a very fun part to play because I’m trying to wrangle them up, and it’s not working for him at all. So it’s funny to just let loose a little bit and throw that frustration into the mix, as well. It kind of just helps the comedic value of it,” he said.

Mr. Baughan plays most of this part at his podium in the front of the studio set, with this back to the leading ladies. Ms. Hartung said she didn’t realize how good he is in the show until she got a chance to see him from the audience.

“Early on, I had hurt my back, and I spent three rehearsals sitting in a chair reading my lines. And I got to see him and all his facial expressions. I’m usually (behind him), so I can’t see him when I’m on stage with him, and he was just great,” she said.

Tryston Bellon, the director’s son, who plays the TV cameraman, has a role with limited lines, but it still presented a huge challenge. He is on stage most of the time and also acts as stage crew, moving props in between and in the beginning of scenes.

“It is one of the most unique roles that I’ve done because usually I have a lot of lines. But this one, I have to portray the character without many lines,” said Tryston, a student in the drama program at Caesar Rodney High School.

“Doing it all just with the expressions was a way of really stretching my acting chops.”

Performances are set for today and Saturday, as well as May 14, 15, 21 and 22, at 8 p.m. There is a matinee May 16 at 2.

Tickets are available here. The Patchwork Playhouse is at 140 Roosevelt Ave., Dover.

Auditions set

Keeping the productions going, the Kent County Theatre Guild will host open auditions for “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” directed by Ms. Gatto, on Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Patchwork Playhouse.

Auditions will consist of cold reads from the script. The cast includes seven men and two women.

The comedy by Neil Simon is inspired by the playwright’s youthful experience as a staff writer on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” as the harried staff frantically scrambles to top each other with gags, while competing for the attention of star madman, Max Prince.

Show dates are July 16, 17, 23, 24, 25, 30 and 31.

In Harmony

First Friday activities are back tonight, along the Loockerman Street area of downtown Dover, featuring music and retail specials.

As part of First Friday events, the Dover Public Library presents its “In Harmony” online concert tonight at 6:30 with virtuoso didgeridoo player and multimedia producer, Rob Thomas.

Mr. Thomas was born in the U.S., lived in Australia and has traveled the world. “Music & More from Down Under and Beyond” mixes funky didgeridoo rhythms, worldly percussion instruments and relaxing soundscapes, with both organic and electronic sound effects, all the while immersing the audience in a virtual landscape of Australian forests, deserts, oceans and distant galaxies.

This concert will be held via Zoom, so register here  to receive the link.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is Jason Statham in the thriller, “The Wrath of Man.”