Crossroads show makes audience eat cake

Wittenberg performers bring Golden Girls’ writers’ ‘Red Velvet Cake War’ to community
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Anyone who hears the words “red velvet cake” automatically thinks about a tasty dessert.

Add the word “war” to the end of them, though, and what’s stirred up instead is a comedy that can only come from the South.

Crossroads Community Theatre is bringing some laughter to the autumn season as it presents “The Red Velvet Cake War,” written by three members of “The Golden Girls” writing team — Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. If the names sound familiar to Crossroads patrons, they should, as director Miriam Nelson has previously tapped the trio and their plays full of Southern charm when figuring out how to entertain residents of western Shawano County year after year.

“Southern Hospitality” was the fall play for Crossroads in 2017, while “Christmas Belles” ushered in the holiday season in 2016 and “Dearly Beloved” turned death into a farce in 2015.

“There’s always a strong Southern ladies theme to it,” Nelson said. “A lot of the characters are similar to the four in (‘The Golden Girls’).”

However, “Velvet Cake” brings its own level of humor as the first play in a trilogy. Nelson said she hopes to eventually bring the other two shows to Wittenberg in the future — “Rex’s Exes” and “Last Round-Up of the Guacamole Queens” — but she believes folks will need time to recover from the constant laughter in this show.

“Our cast members have a distinct desire to always want to say things with a Southern accent,” Nelson said when describing why she continues to utilize plays by Jones, Hope and Wooten. “They just get a big kick out of it. We tried to do one show with Irish, but some Southern slipped in. It’s funny, and we just love to do those accents. The crowd loves it because it’s an accent you don’t hear around here.”

Another reason for tapping Jones, Hope and Wooten is that their plays have a primarily female cast, and Nelson said most of the performers with Crossroads are female, so it’s easier to cast the Southern shows than it would be for plays where there’s a more even mix of male and female parts.

“A lot of the shows are written about men, while these have strong female leads, so that was kind of our push into it,” Nelson said.

The plot revolves around three cousins in the fictional town of Sweetgum, Texas, according to Nelson. Gaynelle Verdeen Bodeen has been tossed aside by her husband in favor of a redhead, causing the woman in her late 40s to go quite mad. A psychologist must determine if she can be brought back to sanity, Nelson said, and her other cousins, Peaches and Jimmie have to figure out a way to make her look normal.

“Things just keep happening that kind of throw her off the rails,” Nelson said. “Gaynelle has been challenged to make the best red velvet cake, and she foolishly bet her house. She’d lost everything in the divorce, and all she had left was the house.”

Challenging her for the fate of the house is Gaynelle’s aunt, LaMerle Verdeen Minshew, who believes she has the best red velvet cake in her neck of the plains, with one line of the play saying that folks walk over burning mesquite chips just to get a taste of her cake.

“Then we have a little tornado thrown into the mix,” Nelson said.

There’s also a family reunion hastily put together, as Gaynelle’s uncle, Aubrey Verdeen, is turning 90 and doesn’t have too many more opportunities to get together with family. Nelson noted he’s the judge for the cake contest, and so the fate of the house will be in his hands.

“LaMerle thinks she’s got it in the bag because she basically controls him, but she doesn’t,” Nelson said with a laugh.

For this show, Crossroads will be giving out free red velvet cupcakes at intermission, according to Nelson. There will also be a variety of prizes given out at the show.

“They don’t cost much, but they’re usually fabulous,” Nelson said.

Nelson noted that Crossroads shows tend to bring out people wanting to celebrate a special occasion like a family one time celebrating an 80th birthday for their matriarch and bringing people from Chicago and Minneapolis. Another time, a doctor’s office in Antigo had a party by watching one of the Crossroads shows. For the most part, though, it’s folks from the Wittenberg area packing the WOWSPACE for the shows.

“It’s just a night of fun and lots of laughs,” Nelson said.