Real-life sisters become rivals in ‘Kitchen Witches’

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

The food-flinging rivalry between two small-town chefs had the cast of St. Clair Shores Players’ production of “The Kitchen Witches” rolling even in their first script read-through.

“We were taking breaks and laughing, having to pause, get ourselves together and continue on,” says actress Jenny Miller. “It’s just been a lot of fun. We brought ourselves to tears laughing a couple times just during rehearsal.”

The play by Canadian playwright Caroline Smith will run Friday through June 6 at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church. The comedy focuses on middle-aged public access cable cooking show hosts Isobel Lomax and Dolly Biddle, whose long-running feud comes to a head when they’re forced to co-host a show called “The Kitchen Witches.” With Dolly’s son, Stephen, struggling to mollify both women, the chaotic show improbably becomes a ratings success.

“These women have known each other since high school, used to be best friends, fell out over a boy and have hated each other ever since,” says director Kathy Smith.

The actresses portraying Isobel and Dolly have quite a long-running relationship of their own, although much less contentious than the one their characters share. Miller, who plays Isobel, is the sister of Karen Drum, who plays Dolly. Both have been theater enthusiasts since high school and have been involved in the St. Clair Shores Players for nearly 15 seasons. Although they’ve occasionally had roles in the same play in the past, “The Kitchen Witches” is the most interaction they’ve ever had onstage.

“Karen does comedies very well and she can be very over-the-top in a good way, so it’s always fun to see her onstage,” Smith says. “Jenny does play it a little bit more subtly, but also very well. She can hold her own. The chemistry works because not only are they sisters, but they play off each other well.”

Drum says that on top of the blood relationship between her and Miller, the small cast of four feels “like a family” unto itself.

“I wish everybody would have a whole big family production,” Drum says. “It brings a little extra spark to the stage, I think.”

And that’s on top of the considerable fireworks already present in the script. Smith promises a literal onstage food fight at one point, and she’s counting on her actors to involve the audience in another improv-heavy setpiece.

“They’re doing kind of an ‘Iron Chef’-type challenge,” she says. “They’re racing around, they’re grabbing their ingredients and there is a guest judge we pull from the audience who gets to eat and taste and decide whose food is better.”

Given that the project is low-budget community theater, there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles; a counter-top and a stove made of Styrofoam make up the main set dressings. But Smith says the show soars on the strength of its spirited and seasoned actors.

“It’s been great to see it unfold because it’s pretty close to what I had in my head when I read the script,” she says. “It’s been great to get the people I wanted in those roles.”

The Kitchen Witches

Through June 6

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Good Shepherd United Methodist Church

31601 Harper, St. Clair Shores

Tickets $9-$10