Carole Williams, Rita Thomas, Dionne Burns, Katelyn Webb, Tina Jo Wallace in The Red Velvet Cake War. Photo: DDP


The Red Velvet Cake War

By Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten
Directed by Jim Hesselman

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2022, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

So, back in the 1960s, there was a series of eight films, based on short stories by Edgar Alan Poe, directed by Roger Corman, and (all but one of them) starring Vincent Price. Watching them today, in no particular order, they are still pretty good movies. But, if you try to watch them back to back, there is a certain sameness that creeps in and they start to seem repetitive and lose their edge.

These days, I think the same can be said for the entire catalog of plays by the prolific playwriting group known as Jones/Hope/Wooten. Taken individually, the plays are entertaining Southern-fried comedies that know their audience and provide exactly what’s expected. But by their sheer prolificness, after you have seen a few they start to seem a bit repetitive and that sameness creeps in.

I don’t know the exact chronology of the many plays by this trio, but Derby Dinner Playhouse is currently presenting another in their long line of comedies centered around Fayro Texas and its adjoining cities (in this case, Sweet Gum Texas) and truthfully, you get what you pay for.

And none of what I just stated is intended to rag on the play itself. If you’re new to the whole Jones/Hope/Wooten experience, The Red Velvet Cake War is a hilarious tale, well told by a great cast and strong director. I am only stating that for those of us who’ve seen so many of these, the plot and jokes do seem a bit familiar.

Led by a cast of DDP veterans and newcomers alike, the story revolves around typical family struggles. J.R. Stuart plays patriarch Aubrey as he approaches his 90th birthday, and dispatches advice in a whimsically wise manner. Stuart is a local treasure and steals every scene he’s in.

As the tomboyish Jimmie Wyvette, Rita Thomas is another standout. She is simply hilarious in her portrayal of the more mischievous of the three cousins who are the central focus of the show.

Tina Jo Wallace’s Gaynelle is trying to stay clear of trouble after trying to run down her ex-husband’s new girlfriend. Wallace is totally believable in her descent into near madness, as Gaynelle heads further down a path of trouble. Meanwhile, a one-eyed wigmaker and bait salesman named Newt Blaylock (Bill Hanna) pursues her affections after love at first sight.

The hijinks escalate at every turn. Gaynelle bets her house in a wager with snooty relative LaMerle Verdeen Minshew (an excellently cast Carol Williams, always reliable playing characters with multiple levels). Their bet is, who can bake the best red velvet cake for the family reunion. A secret recipe buried in a time capsule, a nosy Sheriff and a small town reality TV celebrity add to the mix, building new layers of comedy confection. Dionne Burns is an absolute delight as Cee Cee Windham. Her talk show helps frame the events surrounding the Bodeen family. Their reunion, it turns out, is a heaping serving of bean dishes, two red velvet cakes and Texas heat that fries nerves and tries the patience of all involved.

Jim Hesselman’s adroit direction brings all of this lunacy together in a sprightly-paced production. If you’re new to the Jones/Hope/Wooten experience, this is a pretty great introduction. If you’ve seen their work before, then yes, it might seem a little redundant, but there is still plenty here to love.

Featuring Dionne Burns, Bill Hanna, Tonilyn Hussey, Sara King, J.R. Stuart, Rita Thomas, Tina Jo Wallace, Katelyn Webb, Cary Wiger, and Carol Williams.

The Red Velvet Cake War

January 5 – February 13, 2022

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN  47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.