May 17 2012 12:00 AM

Zany 'Red Velvet' is a country-fried crowd pleaser


“I’ll tell you exactly how, Miss Sour Britches! Oh, I’m hosting this reunion all right, and it’s gonna be the best one in Verdeen family history. And it’ll be a really good time for a change, unlike the constipated snooze-fests you throw every year. And you know what? I’ll bake Uncle Aubrey the most incredible red velvet cake he’s ever laid tongue to! And you’ll just have to shut your yap and accept it.”

If you’re planning a family reunion and want to tell off your own real-life version of the insufferable Aunt LaMerle Verdeen Minshew addressed above, go see Starlight Dinner Theatre‘s  production of “The Red Velvet Cake War” and get a lesson or two from Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen.

Gaynelle (Marni Darr Holmes) and her cousins Peaches (Colleen Patten) and Jimmie (Jan Ross) are at the center of the action in Sweetgum, Texas, as they make plans to throw a family reunion.

Their timing couldn’t be worse. Bully matriarch Aunt LaMerle (Lee Helder) is against it, and the women’s past antics have made them the talk of the gossipy town. Gaynelle has just “accidentally” crashed her minivan through the bedroom wall of her husband’s girlfriend’s doublewide, and she is being psychiatrically evaluated; Peaches, the sexy mortuarial cosmetologist, wants to have her long-absent trucker husband declared dead so that her “luscious lips” can once again be kissed; and rough-edged Jimmie Wyvette, manager of Whatley’s Western Wear, is turning herself inside out to win the affections of Sweetgum’s newest widower. To top it off, it’s the hottest day in July — and the middle of tornado season.

This may not be the most engaging storyline or the wittiest script Starlight has ever tackled, but under the direction of Lisa Sodman Elzinga it’s nevertheless a sure-fire crowdpleaser. Making this happen, in addition to Darr Holmes, Patten, Ross and Helder, is the high-energy, high-spirited cast of Harlow Claggett, Susan Chmurynsky, Susan DeRosa, Carl Sodman, Michael Hays, Mary Herrbach, Bob Murrell and Winifred Olds, ably portraying various madcap Sweetgum inhabitants.

Legendary community theater veteran Olds, armed with a glorious golden wig and her effortless comic timing, is a treat as always as the wry-humored hostess of a local TV show.

“As age creeps up,” Olds has written in her program bio, “theater is a place to ‘live.’”

The script for “Cake War” comes from playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, whose television writing credits include “Golden Girls,” “Designing Women,” “Night Court” and “Murphy Brown.”  Often described as three of the most widely produced comedy playwrights in America, they are also the authors of “The Hallelujah Girls,” produced by Starlight earlier this season.

Linda M. Granger, Starlight founder and artistic director, reports that in 2013 Starlight will stage the world premiere of a new Jones/Hope/Wooten play. Jones called recently and offered it to Granger, requesting only that three seats be saved for them opening night. What a coup for Granger, who has worked tirelessly since 2005 to make Starlight the success that it is.

‘The Red Velvet Cake War’
Starlight Dinner Theatre
Friday, May 18 and Saturday, May 19
Waverly East Cafetorium, 3131 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing
Dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. with the show beginning at 7:30. Dinner reservations are required 48 hours in advance.
Show and dinner: $33 adults; $28 seniors and students; $20 children 12 and under
Show only: $15 adults, seniors, students; $10 children 12 and under