Theater Review: THE KITCHEN WITCHES (Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa)

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by Milo Shapiro on July 10, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Cooking shows are typically feel-good shows. The calm of Martha Stewart. The sweetness of Rachel Rae. The edge of Emeril Lagasse. Of course, it’s easy for them to make everything appear to go well on those high-budget programs; editing allows blunders to be reset and re-shot. So what great fodder for comedy to base a plot around a live cooking program where plenty goes wrong. As a bonus, let it air on a low-budget, small-town, community-access cable station.

Dolly Bittle (Christine McCoy) is on her last day as hostess of her low-rated cooking program. Her show is doomed because the community center where they film it discovers they can make more money tearing down her set and converting the space into rentable pickleball courts. Since she’s got nothing to lose, she uses her parting-day opportunity to take public potshots at her rival, the other well-known cook in town, Isobel Lomax (Jo-Darlene Reardon).

Foreseeing this likelihood, Isobel is in the audience of the final taping and charges the stage. The two enemies lose all composure, verbally assaulting each other on live TV, as barbs fly left and right. When Isobel says she values her privacy, Doly spits back, “You’re about as private as a Kardashian cleavage!”

All of this is happening to the horror of Dolly’s son Stephen Biddle (Walter Ruskin), who is the show’s stage manager, watching his career go up in flames. It’s a total TV disaster except for one thing: the townsfolk love it, flooding the station director with calls, demanding to see more of both.

Director Sarah Mosby paces the energy well and choreographs Stephen’s physical interjections between the “kitchen witches” to the tune of good fun. The ladies carry their roles just fine, but it’s Mr. Ruskin who gets the most laughs with his stunned reactions, silent pleas to them from off-camera, and minor hysterics at what they do and say on the air.

Playwright Caroline Smith makes room for a little poignancy in Act II, which makes for a nice balance to the silliness; it lends itself well to an ending that would have been unbelievable without it. Even with that, though, the ending does feel a bit rushed and pat. That’s mostly in the script, but maybe could have been more believable if slowed down a bit, especially a big reveal from Dolly in the final minutes. Still, it’s a pretty broad comedy, so it’s easy to let it slide that things work out as they do.

Does the show have the polish of an Actors’ Equity show?  No, there’s certainly a feeling of community theatre to the program. But there’s enough good material to the script and enough glee to the performances that it’s still a sweet night of theater.

So, in the end, can the two women, who despise each other (for reasons that are slowly revealed), manage to get through the program and actually cook anything without killing one another (or, more likely, without giving Stephen an ulcer)?  Come down to Lamplighters and find out — and get in some solid laughs while you do.

photos by Ken Jacques

The Kitchen Witches
Lamplighters Community Theatre, 5915 Severin Drive in La Mesa (San Diego)
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on July 30, 2023
for tickets, call 619.303.5092​ or visit Lamplighters

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