To this day, I still don’t understand how a play can be written by three people. Does one focus on the plot, another flesh out the characters and the third concentrate on the one-liners? Or does one do all the writing and the other two decide what to order for take-out?
After watching three Good Company Players productions now over a period of four years from the team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, it’s obvious that whatever the process, this trio has quite the machine going. After giving us “Dearly Beloved” in 2010 and “The Dixie Swim Club” in 2011, the latest title featured from the trio at the 2nd Space Theatre is the cheery but mostly unremarkable comedy “The Red Velvet Cake War.” (It continues Thursdays-Sundays through Feb. 24.)
With its goofy cracks about backwards Texans and inoffensive sex humor, this tale of a dysfunctional family reunion gone awry is aimed solidly at an older demographic. Hemorrhoid joke? Check. Gag about eating too many beans? Double check. A witticism about crafting? Triple check. Randy senior gentleman chasing even randier senior lady? Don’t bother with the scorecard; you’ve hit the jackpot.
The result is silly and innocuous fun that tickles a certain kind of funny bone. (As a dignified older woman sitting near me opening night said at intermission, “This is so crazy!”)
Charged with advancing the hilarity are Jacquie Broach, Laura Tromborg and Tina Coppock, who play three beleaguered cousins in the town of Sweetgum, Texas. When their bitter old aunt, LaMerle (nicely played by Wendy Snyder-Crabtree), is embarrassed by her niece Gaynelle (a comically assured Broach) and her most recent brush with the law, the aunt cancels a scheduled family reunion. The cousins decide to hold it themselves.
Which sets in motion a series of calamitous events involving the kind of eccentric characters you only find in tame, connect-the-dots Southern comedies, including a neighbor (Brian Rhea, quite funny) whose fake eyeball keeps popping out. The silliest of those crises is the wager made between Gaynelle and LaMerle over who can make the best red velvet cake. If Gaynelle loses, she has to give her house to her aunt. Does it come as much of a surprise that Gaynelle isn’t exactly a master baker?
There are shades of the “Greater Tuna” comic franchise clearly evident here, including a hokey cable access show that tosses in random riffs on small-town peculiarities, just like the radio station in “Tuna.” But the creators of “Tuna” are better at creating and sustaining a sense of prolonged farce.
Director Andrew Cardillo, who played a memorable character in “Dearly Beloved,” has a good sense of the comic possibilities and limitations of the genre. I like many of his staging choices. (At one point LaMerle stoops to check out her reflection in an oxygen tank, a nice take on the character.) I wish that the authors had written a show in which not so many of the gags take place offstage, particularly once the family reunion gets under way, which gives the comedy a passive feel as we listen to accounts of the hilarity. But Cardillo does a nice job with the material he’s given.
A special nod goes to David Otero as the old, but not so addled, Aubrey Verdeen. Otero has turned in some fine dramatic performances locally over the years, and it’s fun to see his prowess in wringing laughs out of an audience. And Laura Tromborg and Coppock have some nice moments as the determined cousins.
From a design standpoint, this is a smooth and impressive production. Patrick Tromborg’s set, which depicts Gaynelle’s living room, is a great fit for the 2nd Space stage, with sliding doors opening up to alcoves for other settings. And Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes do a lot toward capturing the show’s silly Texas ambiance.
As for the winning red velvet cake recipe, I won’t reveal that punch line. But I was happy to be able to pay a buck for a Good Company version during intermission. Best dessert deal in town.
Pictured: Jimmie Wyvette Verdeen (Laura Tromborg), Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen (Jacquie Broach) and Peaches Verdeen Belrose (Tina Coppock) in “The Red Velvet Cake War.”