Let them eat cake with red velvet laughter

A community review of It's About Time Productions' new show

Sept. 7, 2019 — It’s a southern-fried family reunion that’s over the moon and full of beans, electric hair, a bouffant wig, a rolling eyeball, kinky boots, outrageous relations, felony and mayhem, and crumby culinary capers.

It’s outright prolonged laughter, a rich recipe to delight audiences from near and far. It’s a riotous comedy at Florence Playhouse in the heart of Old Town Florence and a delightful way to rechristen a longtime favorite local stage.

The comedy is “The Red Velvet Cake War” written by a trio of wags — Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten — all with impressive credentials from stage and screen, Broadway and Hollywood, including the movie “Kingdom Come” with LL Cool J and Whoopi Goldberg, Disney TV series “Teacher’s Pet” and TV’s “Golden Girls.”

This laugh riot is another presentation by Florence’s sterling It’s About Time Productions. The comedic troupers will tread the boards on Fridays and Saturdays, Sept. 6 and 7 and 13 and 14, at 7 p.m., on Sundays, Sept. 8 and 15, at 2 p.m., and on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 11 and 12, at 7 p.m. All shows take place at the Florence Playhouse, 208 Laurel St. in Historic Old Town Florence.

When it comes to comedy, the Lone Star State is a natural. It thrives on exaggeration from 10-gallon hats to giant steers to gushing oil wells to accents that drawl all the way to the Washington D.C. and back. This comedy takes place in Sweetgum, Texas, and the players lasso that drawl and twirl it proudly.

That family reunion is about to be fried to a crisp on account of Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen’s (Laura Miller) lawless revenge on her cheating spouse. In order not to shame the family, matriarch LaMerle Verdeen Minshew (Linda Sherwood) decides to cancel the reunion until the three cousins — Gaynelle, Peaches Verdeen Belrose (Victoria Seitzinger) and Jimmie Wynette Verdeen (Judy Kaplan) — persuade her not to. Therefore, LaMerle will bake her famous red velvet cake, assuming she’ll win the prize. She is surprised when Gaynelle bets her house she can bake a better red velvet cake. They shake hands, and the war is on.

While LaMerle is confident of victory, the cousins’ strategy takes some hokey twists and turns and almost lands them in the pokey.

So how does the situation resolve? My lips are sealed. There’ll be no spoiler alerts!

The 11 actors take full advantage of their wacky roles and play them to the hilt, all under the witty direction of Beth Johnston, who comes to “The Red Velvet Cake War” with decades of theater experience.

Sherwood embodies LaMerle, the imperious doyenne of Sweetgum. She rules the royal roost, and, like the Queen of England, she always carries a purse, except LaMerle’s purse takes the shape of an armadillo.

Cee Cee Windham (Portia Neff) is Sweetgum’s TV hostess and the only character that doesn’t fly off the rails. Neff maintains her calm, cool and collected disposition, giving tips and playing a pivotal part.

The three cousins look out for themselves and each other. Miller as Gaynelle is hyper with hysterical hysterics. Seitzinger as svelte Peaches, the mortician’s cosmetologist, takes charge. Kaplan as Jimmie, who is more at home on the range than in the parlor, does a hilarious turn staggering in high-heeled red kinky boots.

Kudos also to Seitzinger for designing the wonderful living room set.

Angie Terrell asserts her charming self as neighbor Bitsy Hargis doing battle for a beau.

Sheri Susee plays two riotous roles — as Bitsy’s Mama Doll Hargis pushing her walker with gusto in amorous pursuit, and as Purvis Verdeen, the family paparazzi.

Kristi Whittington as Elsa Dowdall, the psychologist come to examine errant Gaynelle, puts on a German accent, until she twirls a Freudian twist.

Three gentlemen round out the lively cast, and each cuts the mustard with aplomb.

Barry Sommer sparkles with glee as 90-year-old Uncle Aubrey Verdeen who gets a lot of amorous mileage rolling his oxygen tank. The gags come fast and loose, and Sommer delivers my favorite, the one that has to do with asteroids.

The ayes have it for Gary Miller as handsome earnest helpful starstruck Newt Blaylock, so eager to please. The eye of Newt is a wondrous thing!

Grant Harmond, popular player in myriad local shows, does himself proud in a Texas Ranger role as Sheriff Grover Lout who cuffs the perps and hauls them to the hoosgow.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the Verdeens and their friends and neighbors, come and sit a spell and laugh your head off. If you’re lucky, before the red velvet curtain comes down, you might get a taste of Red Velvet Cake. In any case, you’ll have a good time. After all, it’s about time you had a good time.

It’s About Time Productions presents “The Red Velvet Cake War” Sept. 6, 7, 8 and 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 at the Florence Playhouse. Tickets are $20, available at the door, by calling 541-999-9392 or at the Florence Playhouse box office. Box office hours will be from 4 to 6 p.m., Thursday through Sunday at the Playhouse.