After the success of the Waterworks Players recent production of RENT, they had to begin “from scratch” (as every new production must) with auditions for their next show, The Kitchen Witches, an award-winning comedy by Canadian playwright, Caroline Smith. Director, Dudley Sauve, could be mistaken for a chef since he chose the perfect “ingredients” (cast members) for The Kitchen Witches “recipe” and once again shows us why he was such a deserving recipient of an LCVA Community Achievement in the Arts Award this year.
Before the show began, I decided to sneak a quick peek at the character descriptions listed in the front of the script so I could be extra critical of the cast members meeting the writer’s expectations, and in the end, there was nothing to be critical about because the cast nailed every one. In brief, the cast called for only four people: Dolly Biddle, a “mature”, creatively comedic woman who tends to be overly indulgent (in all of the wrong things), easily distracted from her cooking tutorials while giving advice on personal matters, and immensely proud of her son, Stephen Biddle. Stephen Biddle is a nervous, thirty-something, low-budget cable TV show producer (of his mother’s cooking show, as it so happens), and he is more of a lover than a fighter. Isobel Lomax is another “mature”, bright, and articulate woman who has come to terms with the choices she made in life to pursue the successful career she has earned. She tends to believe she is so successful, in fact, that she thinks she could teach Martha Stuart a thing or two. (Does the word pretentious come to mind, or is it just me?) Rounding out the cast of four is “Rob the Camera Guy”, the reliable production assistant from the “Getting Our Kids Off the Street” program.
The show “preheats” with the last LIVE production of Dolly Biddle’s solo cooking show. Dolly, portrayed by Martha Womack, is known to her viewers (and audience, initially) as “Babcha”. Martha offers up a purposefully (I think) questionable foreign accent while carrying on about the correct pronunciation of “pierogie” . . . you know, those potato and cheese filled pasta things that everyone mumbles the name of because they’re never certain how to pronounce it . . . and she proceeds with offering advice on personal matters one would never consider appropriate for a cooking show. Just as Dolly (Martha) finally gets to the cooking part of her cooking show, she is eventually interrupted by Isobel Lomax, played by Daphne Mason. The convincing confrontation that ensues between Isobel (Daphne) and Dolly (Martha) gives the audience their first insight into the thirty year hatred these women have shared for each other over the never present, but often referenced character in the plot, Larry Biddle. It is not only the performances of Daphne and Martha that convince the audience of the history between these characters, but also the resulting “ratings hike” from the accidental on-air confrontation of the characters that convinces the station owner to give Isobel and Dolly a cooking show together.
Stephen Biddle’s (Jordan Whiley’s) pleas with the battling babes to give the show a chance finally pay off, and he sets to writing the scripts. With each failed effort the nicorette chewing, nicotine patch wearing Stephen makes to coerce the ladies to cooperate through rehearsals and show, Jordan Whiley gives us more reason to believe in his character’s somewhat pathetic, yet equally humorous predicament. As “The Kitchen Witches” cooking show progresses, the details of Stephen’s life history are literally broadcast by the female duo, and his situation only gets worse. Jordan does an excellent job of keeping the balance of his character as a real, “average guy” facing unique circumstances without overplaying the role. Even when he is “on-air” and seriously citing sponsor ads you might otherwise ignore in real life, you should really pay attention as his deliberately dry delivery will lead you to laughter.
Martha and Daphne are certainly no amateurs in comedic delivery, either. They naturally toss out the one-liners of their witchy women characters and have you laughing before you ever see it coming. Daphne’s tell-all facial expressions reveal Isobel’s feelings about any given moment, comment, or costume before a word ever needs to be spoken. Martha (Dolly) even discreetly uses her body language without distracting from the scene to draw more humor to a confrontation she has with Isobel while wearing an already hysterical apron.
Now you’re probably thinking, “I thought she said there was a fourth character?” There certainly is. It’s Rob the Camera Guy, remember? Now, Rob, played by JR Schipper, doesn’t have much to say throughout the show, although he is almost always present on stage. He does his job, does his best to help Stephen out in every way he can, cleans up the messes on the set, and runs the video camera. Although a silent character for most of the show, returning Waterworks ‘newbie’, JR Schipper, actually does a great job of reacting to the cooks’ catty chaos, Stephen’s seemingly private asides, and all of the family history revealed in between without ever saying a word. In the process, he leads the audience to realize that this “kid being kept off the street” is actually Mr. Reliable, and probably the most sensible character seen in the show.
As with every theater production, the show wouldn’t be possible without the behind-the-scenes “characters”. Dudley Sauve not only directed the show, but also worked with fellow theater mogul, Moffatt Evans, to design and build the perfect ‘LIVE Cooking Show’ set. Elizabeth Whiley donates her time to the food props, a big job in and of itself for all the cooking scenes. (And I can tell you that the lucky audience member selected to serve as the judge for “The Kitchen Witches Quickie Challenge” is in for a good bit of sweet taste testing)! Donald Hicks lends his helping hands to the remaining props, and Rosemary Pollard and Kevin Jones contribute their time to sound and lights (respectively) while stage manager, Brandon Nuckols keeps them all on target with the flow of the show.
The Waterworks Players well-executed production of The Kitchen Witches is a “tasty” comedic show full of food, fun, audience interaction, and surprises. You might even learn some lessons along the way like we all did at tonight’s show: Violently wielded meat cleavers and glass cutting boards don’t mix! The Kitchen Witches heats up the stage June 18, 19, 25, and 26 at 8 PM, and reservations can be made by phone at 434-392-3452 or online at www.waterworksplayers.com for only $10 each. Come cool off from the summer heat with a night of comedy, but before you touch any food, please be sure to “wash your hands”!