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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Red Velvet Cake War
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Young Frankenstein and Frankenstein

Tina Khalil, Shelly Boucher, and Jacque Arend
Photo by Carly Weekley
Playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten have crafted a fairly successful career out of their series of fun comedies that center on eccentric southern characters. While their The Red Velvet Cake War may not be as well constructed as some of their other comedies, TheaterWorks' production features a cast who throw themselves into these wacky and outrageous characters with glee, including Jacque Arend who is superb as the frazzled Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen.

The plot centers around the members of the Verdeen family, including the three close cousins Gaynelle, Peaches, and Jimmie, as they face a series of obstacles. Gaynelle is on edge after she recently and "accidental" crashed her car into her husband's girlfriend's doublewide trailer and because of that incident could be declared insane. Fear of how that escapade has tarnished the family name has forced Aunt LaMerle to cancel the upcoming family reunion. But Peaches and Jimmie have a plan: if Gaynelle can successfully host the reunion surely that will prove she's sane to the court-appointed psychologist who has been assigned to her case. When Aunt LaMerle gets wind of the cousins' plan, it sets her tongue a-wagging. But Gaynelle has had enough of her aunt's self-righteous attitude, so bets that not only can she pull the reunion off but that her red velvet cake will beat LaMerle's prize-winning dessert in a taste test. With her house as the wager, Gaynelle has even bigger problems; she has no idea how to make a red velvet cake.

Jones, Hope and Wooten have come up with a fun and fast-paced plot with some very funny moments, but the silly sitcom style and over the top characters threaten to derail it at times. Fortunately, director Dominik Rebilas keeps the pace brisk and the comedy in check; in spite of it being broad, it never gets too unbelievable or out of control. He also ensures the entire cast are equipped for the farce-like second act in which the three doors on William Symington's smart set are constantly in motion. The cast also look great in Whitney Tres' costumes which deliver some big laughs, including the tight-fitting numbers for Peaches.

With an urgency in her line delivery and a rich Southern accent that resembles a young Holly Hunter at times, Jacque Arend has the right level of spunkiness and uncertainty to provide plenty of layers in her portrayal of the troubled Gaynelle. She also has expert comic timing and a deep sense of tenacity. Arend beautifully evokes this fragile, crazed and unpredictable woman who is at wit's end. Shelly Boucher and Tina Khalil are hilarious, with humorous line delivery and good comic chips, as her two cousins, the sex-crazed, mortuary cosmetologist Peaches and the rough and tough, tomboyish, western wear store manager Jimmie. Arend, Boucher and Khalil also create characters that evoke a firm, close-knit sisterly relationship which ensures there is also plenty of heart and a realistic family bond portrayed in their performances.

In the supporting cast, Peter Cunniff is a hoot as the dim-witted, one-eyed suitor Newt, and Christy Welty is an absolute pain in the ass as Aunt LaMerle. Amanda Kei Glenn is full of fire as a feisty neighbor, and Peter J. Hart is humorous as the girl's 90-year-old Uncle Aubrey, though you never once believe Hart is actually that old. Dan Clanton, Toni Jourdan, and Amber Ryan round out the cast.

The Red Velvet Cake War is an absurd, screwball comedy featuring outrageous characters and outlandish situations. It may not be a perfect comedy, but with a game cast and fast-paced direction, TheaterWorks' production sure shows it can be a lot of fun.

The Red Velvet Cake War, through November 11, 2018, at TheaterWorks, 8355 West Peoria Avenue, Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 623-815-7930.

Director: Dominik Rebilas
Scenic Designer: William Symington
Lighting Designer: Annie Fair
Costume Designer: Whitney Tres
Hair and Make-Up Designer: Kim Nolan
Props Designer: Petey Swartz
Sound Designer: Matthew Sanders
Stage Manager: Jenn Goettertz

Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen: Jacque Arend
Peaches Verdeen Belrose: Shelly Boucher
Sheriff Grover Lout / Purvis Verdeen: Dan Clanton
Newt Blaylock: Peter Cunniff
Bitsy Hargis: Amanda Kei Glenn
Aubrey Verdeen: Peter J. Hart
Elsa Dowdall: Toni Jourdan
Jimmie Wyvette Verdeen: Tina Khalil
Cee Cee Windham / Mama Doll Hargis: Amber Ryan
LaMerle Verdeen Minshew: Christy Welty

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