Best Bets: Kent County Theatre Guild serves up laughs with 'Red Velvet Cake War'

By Craig Horleman
Posted 9/17/21

The war is on at Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse.

“The Red Velvet Cake War” starts Sept. 24 at the Dover theater, filled with an assortment of feuding family …

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Best Bets: Kent County Theatre Guild serves up laughs with 'Red Velvet Cake War'


The war is on at Kent County Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse.

“The Red Velvet Cake War” starts Sept. 24 at the Dover theater, filled with an assortment of feuding family members, an approaching tornado and a one-eyed Lothario named Newt.

In this Southern-fried comedy, the three Verdeen cousins — Gaynelle, Peaches and Jimmie — are throwing a family reunion at a most inopportune time.

Having “accidentally” crashed her minivan through the bedroom wall of her husband’s girlfriend’s doublewide, Gaynelle is nearing a meltdown. Peaches, the number one mortuarial cosmetologist in the tri-county area, is struggling to decide if it’s time to have her long-absent trucker husband declared dead.

And Jimmie, a tough-talking store manager of Whatley’s Western Wear, is resorting to extreme measures to outmaneuver a neighbor for the affections of Sweetgum, Texas’ newest widower.

The three decide that the reunion’s success is the perfect way to prove Gaynelle’s sanity to a skeptical court-appointed psychologist.

A parade of wildly eccentric Verdeens gathers on the hottest day of July in the middle of Texas tornado season while things spin wildly out of control and are hinged upon a high-stakes bet on who makes the best red velvet cake — Gaynelle or the scheming Aunt Lamerle.

“We’re trying desperately to keep this from sliding into caricature and there are places where it’s going to happen with this type of show. But I find it, even after sitting there and watching it for the last six weeks or whatever, still very funny,” said director Mike Polo.

The show is written by the team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, creators of other KCTG-staged comedies such as “Savannah Sipping Society” and “Hallelujah Girls.”

“This is one of those Jones, Hope and Wooten shows that are always fun to do. And they are well-built shows. ‘Savannah’ was kind of a comedy-drama but this one is more of a flat-out comedy with some farcical elements,” said Mr. Polo, who was originally supposed to be the assistant director but had to take the reins of the show following three weeks of rehearsal after the show’s co-director Bruce Leister, had to bow out for knee surgery.

The Jones, Hope and Wooten shows, combined with productions such as the “Greater Tuna” series and “Steel Magnolias,” have proved that southern-based shows are popular with Kent County Theatre Guild audiences.

“People seem to like them, I certainly like them,” said Mr. Polo’s wife, Chris, who plays Aunt Lamerle Winshew.

“We’ve got a lot of Southerners in this group. I’m from Texas and Patti (Gatto) is from Virginia, and I feel like almost everybody in Delaware has a North Carolina connection. I don’t know what that’s all about.”

The three cousins are played by Ms. Gatto as Peaches Belrose, Terri Thompson as Gaynelle Bodeen and Dede Kingston as Jimmie Verdeen.

While Ms. Gatto and Ms. Thompson are veterans of the Kent County Theatre Guild, this is the first show at the Dover theater for Ms. Kingston.

An acting veteran, she and her husband recently moved to Camden from Nevada and she was happy to find a theater home here.

“I came to the last performance of ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’ and I was going to find out how to get involved and I was afraid to come and talk to anyone after the performance,” she said.

“But later I found out all you have to do is to show up and say you’re here and the rest is history.”

She says she is having a ball.

“I loved the script from the time we did the cold reads and I would have been thrilled with anything at all. I thought Lamerle was great fun but when Bruce called me and asked me about Jimmie, I was thrilled. I love playing her,” she said.

“The cast is fun, smart and talented and they are very welcoming. I feel like I have found my little tribe.”

Aside from the central characters, there is a frustrated talk show host played by Madison Burtner; Uncle Aubrey Verdeen, who is so old, his “birthstone is lava” played by Bill Sanders; his love interest, the crazy Mama Doll Hargis, played by Pat Musto; southern viper Bitsy Hargis played by June Allen; Purvis Verdeen, who loves to take and show pictures of dead relatives, played by Terry Doane; and Newt Blaylock, a Texas eccentric who runs Miss Treva’s Wig ‘N’ Bait, who has a tendency to keep losing his glass eye.

Newt is played by Steven Dow, who is a regular at Second Street Players in Milford and Clear Space Theatre in Rehoboth Beach. This is his first show with KCTG since 2013, having recently moved closer to the area.

He said he instantly fell in love with his crazy character.

“We did the readthrough and we were all laughing so hard with just the crazy stuff that was being said,” he said. “I get to wear an eye patch and have hair down to here. What’s not to like?”

He says while his character is the most outrageous of the bunch, he does try to ground Newt as much as possible.

“That’s always a worry with Southern comedies, that it’s just going to be bashing rednecks. But that’s not what this is at all. All the characters are fun and really well written. I very much was happy about that,” Mr. Dow said.

A highlight of the show is when Newt gets into an acrobatic romantic tryst on the couch with the psychologist Elsa Dowdall, played by Melissa Brenner. The scene elicits big laughs as they roll about the scenery.

“One of the great things, not just with Melissa, but with all of the cast, I feel like we talk about what’s happening. We sat down and talked and brainstormed what to do and how to do the different flip flops and what we’re actually going to do. The whole cast was in on it. And that’s been such a collaborative effort and Mike allows us to explore and if he likes something that he sees, which is something I really appreciated in a director, he says ‘Keep it’. And if not, then he says ‘Let’s work on it’. But we have the freedom to kind of just try and see what’s funny,” Mr. Dow said.

Mr. Polo said the show is perfect for today’s turbulent times.

“With the year it’s been, I think a light-hearted comedy is what people really need right now,” he said.

Dates for the show are Sept. 24 and 25 and Oct. 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9. Tickets can be purchased The Patchwork Playhouse is at 140 Roosevelt Ave., Dover.

Improv tonight

Also at the Patchwork Playhouse tonight, First State Improv will host a night of adult improvisational comedy called “Pumpkin Spice Laughter.”

Tickets for the show are $10 at the door. The show is unscripted and will includes audience participation.

As with “Cake War,” the show will follow CDC guidelines with social distancing asking those who are unvaccinated to wear a mask.

Big Draw changing gears

The 2021 Big Draw Festival Delaware, sponsored by Mispillion Art League, is pivoting to Plan B because of the leadership’s concern for the health and safety of the community participants and volunteers. The festival’s Plan B still emphasizes this year’s theme, “Make the Change.

Making the Cardboard City last year was a hit with the community, and this year the Art League will be turned into an “Under the Sea” world. They need the community’s help in creating real or imagined sea creatures and plants to inhabit this world.

Plan B also includes a socially distanced “Under the Sea” Costume Parade in downtown Milford on Oct. 30. Show off your own homemade costumes using recycled or recyclable materials. The parade begins at Bicentennial Park in downtown Milford (next to Arena’s parking lot) and follows the Riverwalk to the Farmers Market, where all the creatures can Trick or Treat at the market.

The four previously planned Saturday events have been canceled.

Participants can pick up a free art kit starting Oct. 2 at the Milford Farmers Market and at the Art League while supplies last.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the Clint Eastwood film “Cry Macho” and the Gerard Butler thriller “Copland.”