Any way you slice it, lines have been drawn and this Friday the “The Red Velvet Cake War” commences at the historic Texas Theater in downtown Palestine.
The engagement continues over the first two weekends in October. The Palestine Community Theatre’s fall production is sponsored by Bodi Services and by The Anderson County Roughnecks. The comedy is written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten and directed by Dana Goolsby with assistance from James Vincill.
Assistant director Vincill, who has participated in some capacity in 16 out of the last 19 PCT productions, is pleased with the progress being made by cast and crew.
“We are way ahead of the curve,” Vincill said. “We got out of the book earlier than usual and that always make me happy.”
The story focuses on the latest trials and tribulations of the three Verdeen cousins living in the fictional small town of Sweetgum, Texas. For a number of reasons, Peaches and Jimmie Wyvette valiantly attempt to help Gaynelle host a family reunion on what unfortunately turns out to be the hottest day in July with not only a tornado looming on the horizon, but the outcome of a jaw-dropping high-stakes wager on who bakes the best red velvet cake hanging in the balance.
For some observers the war may be over red velvet cakes, but others may argue that the bet is merely frosting on the proverbial cake. Consider the underlying ingredients: Is the gamble simply a skirmish in that age-old battle between the sexes?
Jimmie Wyvette may be on to something when she points out to her cousin Peaches, “Hey, this is the first time in years the three of us have had men on the brain at the same. I’m trying to snare one, you’re trying to bury one, and Gaynelle wants to kill one.”
During a recent rehearsal, cast members gathered to discuss the eccentric characters they have been practicing for many weeks looking forward to entertaining PCT audiences.
Dixie Dorsett plays the lead role of frazzled Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen. To prepare for the part, Dorsett spent time researching and exploring the attitudinal extremes of a woman clearly pushed to the edge of insanity, but who can look to family for honesty and support.
“I love Gaynelle and her family,” Dorsett said. “It is an honor to tap into her emotional fragility and her strength.”
Speaking of family, Dr. Jan Sikes who portrays Peaches, the No. 1 mortuarial cosmetologist in the tri-county area, feels that her character is the most objective of the three cousins and “is the glue that holds them together.”
“Peaches strives to bring the beauty to everything and everyone around her,” Sikes said. “She is the consummate optimist — even in the worst of times.”
“Jimmie Wyvette is a treat,” said Sandy Webb, of the rough-around-the-edges store manager of Whatley’s Western Wear and the other Verdeen cousin. “I’ve never done a lead before…and although I was a tomboy growing-up, this is a bit of stretch!”
The cousins’ arch nemesis since childhood is their self-righteous Aunt LaMerle.
“I think every family has an ‘Aunt LaMerle,’” observed Carol Moore. “So, I’m having fun bringing this character to life. Everyone will be able to relate to her ‘holier than thou attitude’ and demanding ways.”
However, Aunt LaMerle meets her match in her down-to-earth Uncle Aubrey played by Doug Smith. For Smith, his portrayal of Uncle Aubrey is a reminder of the patriarchs of his family beginning with his grandfather who lived to be 102 years old.
It also is homage to his veteran dad and a tribute to his uncle and several great-uncles who served during World War II and to one uncle who served in Korea.
“I love Aubrey because of his attitude,” said Smith. “Enjoy life. Have fun. Live longer.”
Taking on the role of one-eyed suitor Newt Blaylock is Gerry Goodwin. For Goodwin, Newt is not the typical straight man that the actor is accustomed to playing.
“I am out of my comfort zone,” admits Goodwin. “Newt imagines himself a ‘lady’s man’ until he is faced with reality. He doesn’t realize how funny he is.”
Like Goodwin, Kathrine Newton — the skeptical court-appointed psychologist Elsa Dowdall — is somewhat out of her comfort zone.
“Elsa is unique to my repertoire,” said Newton. “Nonetheless, I keep reminding myself that one grows both as an actor and as a person by accepting new challenges.”
On the other hand, Terry Warren wholeheartedly embraces her place as Gaynelle’s “priss-pot” neighbor Bitsy Hargis.
“I think Bitsy is a bit bi-polar,” laughed Warren. “She is absolutely Ditzy Bitsy, and there is nothing itsy about Bitsy. She is over the top and never stops!”
Olivia Santone also finds herself playing extremes, albeit on a personal level, as Verdeen cousin and self-appointed family photographer Purvis.
“I just played sex-pot Lily St. Regis in ‘Annie,’” explained Santone. “Now, I am at the opposite end of the spectrum.”
Sanity does reign supreme when it comes to Gaynelle’s best friend Cee Cee Windham. Cassie Severn plays Sweetgum’s answer to Martha Stewart as hostess of “Hospitality House” on the community’s low budget cable access channel.
“I’m pretty sure that Cee Cee is single,” declared Severn.
Vincill literally and figuratively changes hats from his assistant director position to that of Sheriff Grover Lout.
“I’ve directed and played before, this is nothing new,” said Vincill. “Hopefully Grover comes across as loveable, but without a doubt incompetent — kind of like Barney Fife.”
Billie Dyer rounds out the cast as the forgetful Mama Doll in her debut PCT performance.
“First of all, I want to be Mama Doll when I grow-up,” said Dyer. “I am humbled to be on the stage with these veteran performers. I am learning so much from everyone.”
There is the old adage “to the victor go the spoils.” Find out who is ultimately victorious in “The Red Velvet Cake War.”
Show dates are Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13. Fridays and Saturdays are 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for adults and $8 for students (ages 4-18). Tickets can be purchased locally from Dogwood Diner, Education Unlimited, Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce, and Sears Palestine. Tickets also can be purchased online at www.outhousetickets.com. Doors will open for the traditional Opening Night Gala at 6:30 p.m. Friday.