By Charles Calabrese
LISBON-The Stage Left Players of Lisbon's current production of Caroline Smith's comedy, "The Kitchen Witches," directed by Craig Snay, is one of the funniest plays I've seen this season, thanks to an excellent script, an outstanding cast and the director's gift for combining physical and verbal comedy in a fast-paced, perfectly timed package.
The play begins with the last episode of "Cooking with Bobcha," a cable-access show featuring Ukrainian cuisine, and hosted by the very non-Ukrainian Dolly Biddle, using a fake Eastern European accent. The show is interrupted by also-canceled TV cook Isobel Lomax, who threatens Dolly with a lawsuit for making repeated disparaging remarks about Isobel.
The resulting confrontation generates huge viewer response (at least huge for cable-access) and a management decision to have Dolly and Isobel do a show together, under the direction of Dolly's son, Stephen.
As the play progresses, the two loose-lipped foodies reveal embarrassing facts about each other's past, and keep upping the ante on their physical confrontations, usually involving food that is thrown or applied directly to the rival cook's face, prompting Stephen to increase exponentially his daily intake of headache remedies. The stinging one-liners and the laughs don't stop until the curtain call.
Karen E. Hauck-Losito is hilarious as Dolly, the more physical and demonstrative of the pair, playing out larger-than-life physical comedy bits worthy of Lucille Ball in her prime. She also exhibits flawless timing in her delivery of every line her character says.
Tammy Crismon is a revelation as Isobel, demonstrating a heretofore never exhibited gift for physical comedy. Crismon gives a perfect interpretation of her sharp-tongued character's devastating one-liners combined with the ability to give as good as she gets physically from Hauck-Losito, making her character a side-splitting cross between Martha Stewart and Ethel Mertz.
What makes these two smart, pretty women so special in their respective roles is their utter fearlessness when it comes to looking or acting silly, or getting down and dirty in their physical confrontations. These are two superb comic actresses at the top of their game and willing to do whatever it takes to stay there.
Nathan Kuhns is equally important to the production in the role of Stephen Biddle, and his is, in many ways, the most challenging part in the play. Stephen has to be the referee between two strong female personalities, both of whom know how to push his buttons. Kuhns delivers a masterfully balanced performance that shows the character's restraint in the face of extreme stress.
Director Craig Snay also designed the set for the show that works perfectly with the unique space at Stage Left's Trinity Playhouse.
"The Kitchen Witches" will be presented again this coming Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Call ahead for reservations at 330-831-7249. I give this show my highest recommendation for adults and mature teens. Parents are cautioned that the play contains several instances of strong vulgarity and tasteful discussion of sexual matters.
(Guest reviewer Charles Calabrese, a resident of Wintersville, has been writing performing arts reviews for print and broadcast for more than 30 years.)