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Stage & Theater
Curtain Call
West Coast Players stages Southern-fried farce ‘Rex’s Exes’
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[Image]
Photo courtesy of WEST COAST PLAYERS
Standing, from left, cousins Gaynelle (Janice Creneti), Peaches (Cherie Albury) and Jimmie(Colleen Coughenour) question Rex (John Timberlake) about his disappearance.
Lock up the Reddi-wip: the Verdeen cousins of Sweetgum, Texas, are back in town.

“Rex’s Exes,” by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, runs through Feb. 2, at West Coast Players, 21905 U.S. 19 N., Clearwater.

The production is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service Inc. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; and Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets are $17. Call 437-2363 or visit www.wcplayers.org.

“Rex’s Exes,” the sequel to last year’s comedy hit “The Red Velvet Cake War” at West Coast Players, resurrects the motley-but-lovable Verdeen clan just as Gaynelle is freaking out over turning 50. Peaches and Jimmie Wy – who are each dealing with their own crises – insist upon throwing Gaynelle a surprise birthday party (despite Gaynelle’s repeated warnings).

Meanwhile, Peaches is convinced she’s being haunted by the ghost the husband who abandoned her and Jimmie Wy is desperately trying to prepare her fledgling business – Wide Bride, a “wedding gown boutique for big gals,” as described by Dramatists Play Service – for a visit from the First Lady of Texas.

“Rex’s Exes” is pure Southern-fried farce.

As in “The Red Velvet Cake War,” the calamity-prone cousins are flirting with disaster. The show features most of the same characters, with a few new faces thrown into the mix. Meddling Aunt LaMerle is still determined to save the family’s reputation from the Verdeen girls – this time by revealing a family secret in order to crack the ranks of the elite Daughters of the Nation of Texas. Randy Uncle Aubrey is still chasing Mama Doll, dragging his oxygen tank along behind him. There is also a Cajun bounty hunter and a New Age therapist who accidentally causes both Gaynelle and Jimmie Wy to reveal their own romantic secret.

For the most part, the same actors reprise the roles they played in West Coast Players’ production of “The Red Velvet Cake War.”

“I am pleased to bring back this award-winning cast of characters,” writes Ashlie Ann Johnson in her notes from the director.

Johnson directed last year’s “The Red Velvet Cake War” as well as this year’s sequel, “Rex’s Exes.”

“While the hilarious antics will tickle your funny bone and leave you rolling in the aisles, I know you will also find that the loving bonds of family also tug at your heartstrings,” Johnson continues.

Last year’s production of “The Red Velvet Cake War” won the STARS Award for Favorite Comedy Production.

Janice Creneti returns as Gaynelle Verdeen. Creneti gives a solid performance of a woman trying to find tranquility amidst chaos. She conveys the character’s compounding frustration without ever making her seem bitter or indignant.

Cherie Albury plays Peaches Verdeen. Albury’s take on Peaches – a mortuary cosmetologist by trade – is as fascinating as it is fun to watch. The character’s unfulfilled needs once again play an important role in the comedy, and Albury doesn’t disappoint when delivering some of the production’s best lines.

The role of Jimmie Wy Verdeen has been taken over by Colleen Coughenour, who portrayed Cee Cee Windham in “The Red Velvet Cake War.” It is interesting that the one major change to the cast happens to concern the one character who has developed the most over the course of the two plays. Jimmie Wy is more confident and more determined in “Rex’s Exes,” and Coughenour is a perfect choice to help underscore that transformation.

John Timberlake plays Theodore Rexford Belrose. Timberlake – who always possesses a strong stage presence – allows himself to be overshadowed by the three central women to great comedic effect. Timberlake is hilariously directionless – because the character is so wonderfully undisciplined, egocentric and, well, dim, at least in terms of relationships.

The entire cast does a fine job in “Rex’s Exes,” with plenty of standout performances such as Kimen Mitchell as Gentle Harmony and Rick Bronson as Wild Bill Bodreaux. Bronson also portrays Cee Cee Windham, host of the local cable access program “Hospitality House,” one of the show’s most wildly funny inventions.

This show – along with its predecessor – owe much to the Greater Tuna franchise. Both franchises emphasize the same kind of regional, bucolic humor: Small-town Texans are the target of affectionate satire in both cases.

The script to the Jones-Hope-Wooten sequel, though, doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. Perhaps it’s the fact that the characters and their quirks are familiar, or that there are so many passages in dialogue in the first act that sound too much like an abridgment of “Red Velvet Cake War” for the benefit of the audience. The playwrights seem to have more difficulty sustaining the farce this time around.

Fortunately, West Coast Players manages to make the most of the material and make even the weakest scenes funny and enjoyable. Where the script is lean, the cast compensates. Where the script is rich, the cast excels. Add to that fine direction, capable casting, practical set design and inspired costuming, and this production of “Rex’s Exes” flourishes as a satisfying sequel.

Each and every member of this ensemble has mastered comedic timing in order to emphasize the comic absurdity of these situations. “Rex’s Exes” is more than just a series of one-liners and running gags: Much of the humor in this production derives from the complexities of these characters, and the cast has done a superb job at making them all seem very real – no matter the scope of their idiosyncrasies.
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