by DICK KEREKES
Theatre Jacksonville opened its first play of 2009 last weekend, with Canadian playwright Caroline Smith’s The Kitchen Witches. It will run through January 31st at the Harold K. Smith Playhouse, 2032 San Marco Blvd.
TV cooking shows and competitions are very popular with the likes of Emeril and Rachel Ray leading the way, after Julia Child broke the ice on cooking shows years ago. I got hooked on them several years ago when I spent a week in the hospital, enjoying visual food offerings without gaining any weight.
Witches is the story of Dolly and Isobel, two cooking show personalities, who each have had their TV shows cancelled. They wind up producing a show together called The Kitchen Witches, despite the fact they have been bitter enemies and rivals for 30 years. This unlikely alliance came when Dolly’s nemesis, Isobel Izzy (Valerie Anthony) boldly explodes on the set of Dolly Biddle’s (Simon Aden-Reid) show during her final broadcast to criticize and make embarrassing revelations about their past. The wife of the station owner was watching and since her one of her favorite shows is Jerry Springer, she hires them on the spot. Dolly’s son Stephen Biddle (Doug Nemeth) is also retained as announcer and producer.
You can’t imagine how different these two women are. Dolly like to hit the bottle while she works, and is not shy about using crazy accents and talking about sexual matters using double entendres. Isobel is more subdued and smug since she is a European Cordon-Bleu training chef, but comes into her own in Act II with her subtle insults and a tremendous surprise that changes the lives of the three characters forever. It is a secret I dare not reveal for fear of spoiling the show for you.
The audience is treated as a studio audience with cue cards flashed for use to applaud. The full house opening night audience was really got into this audience participation. In Act II a member of the evening’s crowd is brought on stage to judge the hilarious quickie dessert competition between the two battling babes. Wait unit you see the costumes this pair conjures up to wear!! Especially funny is the segment featuring Southern Cooking with our chefs dressed like Gone With the Wind characters!!
The success of this TV cooking diva comedy could not have been possible without three important components, a great cast, a marvelous set and excellent direction.
I know actresses don’t like to be referred to as legends, but in the world of local theatre, Valerie Anthony and Simone Aden-Reid have certainly contribute many memorable performances over the years, but not recently. Both were extremely busy on local stages in the 80s and 90s, until they became very involved in successful teaching careers, and performing took a back seat. Want to learn something about acting? Go see these two marvelous actresses in action.
Doug Nemeth, as the TV producer Stephen, is making his Jacksonville debut with this show, and quite possibly his first large role on stage since his program biography lists no previous theatre credits and only that he is a career fish and wildlife biologist. He does quite well in his first effort. Rae Bolton and Sarah Gray are alternately playing the on stage role of camera person who say a total of three words.
Michelle Simkulet makes her directorial debut at Theatre Jax with this show and has been involved with theatre since she moved to this city from Canada several years. She has stage managed several shows at TJ (Over the Tavern, Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know, All of My Sons, and Over the River and Through the Woods). Her direction is crisp thus creating a fast paced show.
Kelly Wagoner, Set Designer, and Jeff Wagoner, Technical Director/ Lighting Designer have created a seemingly working kitchen/TV studio on the stage, that is so realistic you will feel are actually live in a real TV station. Good to have costume designer Aubrey Wagner back. I loved her witch’s attire, and her Civil War style Southern Belle creations will have you whistling Dixie.
The Kitchen Witches is all about food and fun and great way to start new theatre journeys in 2009. Call 396-4425 for reservations and while you are at it order tickets for the annual Happily Red fund raising show on February l4th. This year will feature a concert version of Hello Dolly with Broadway veterans Pamela Myers and Harvey Evans, in the leading roles. Joining them on stage will be Sarah Boone, Michael Lipp and Juan Unzueta, singing all those great show tunes.
The Kitchen Witches
by DICK KEREKES