Stage & Dance

Conflict and comedy are the main ingredients in 'Kitchen Witches'

Debbie Sharp, left, plays Isobel and Patricia O'Neil is Dolly in Studio Players' production of The Kitchen Witches. The show opened Thursday and runs through Feb. 6.
Debbie Sharp, left, plays Isobel and Patricia O'Neil is Dolly in Studio Players' production of The Kitchen Witches. The show opened Thursday and runs through Feb. 6.

Take two women who loved the same man. Add 30 years of mutual hatred. Stir in forced collaboration on a TV show, careful to strain competing egos. Garnish with kitchen knives and sprinkles of seething resentment. Serve with generous helpings of laughter.

That's the recipe for Studio Players' latest comedy, The Kitchen Witches, by Canadian playwright Caroline Smith.

The show is a high-octane comedy about two "mature" rival chefs who are plucked from their respective cable- access cooking shows to co-host a TV show called The Kitchen Witches. When the show becomes wildly popular, the two must learn to get over a festering, decades-long feud if they want to succeed.

With insults flying faster than hash browns at Waffle House, rivals Isobel Lomax and Dolly Biddle form the heart of the show's conflict and comedy, and a particular kind of comedy at that.

"The humor reminds me of the old Carol Burnett skits with Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and Harvey Koman," director Gary McCormick says. "The play has often been described as a cross between Martha Stewart and Jerry Springer."

Yes, that implies food fights.

Actors Debbie Sharp and Patricia O'Neil portray the dueling chefs, and they are excited to sink their teeth into the roles.

"Isobel is a bit of a diva, and it is fun playing a diva," Sharp says. "I let her bring out the worst in me and turned it up to high."

Of the two women, Isobel is the ambitious, career-minded one, intent on getting out of town and making a worldly success of herself.

"She is very focused, goal-oriented and self-confident," says Sharp. "You know that because she decided in high school that she was going to study at the Cordon Bleu, and she was not about to let anything stand in her way — not love or family."

Of course, love and family are exactly what kept her foil, the matronly Dolly, at home.

"I play Dolly Biddle, who's never left her home area or forgotten her roots," says O'Neil, noting that Dolly is a self-taught cook.

"When her rival Isobel returns from Cordon Bleu training, Dolly's slinging hash in a diner," she says.

Isobel's focus was on professional ambition, whereas Dolly poured her heart and skill into raising her son, and no matter what life threw at her, she found a way to survive.

"At one point our director, Gary, tried to get me to chop my veggies in a 'professional' manner, but I don't," O'Neil says, describing Dolly's low-maintenance, make-do character traits.

"Dolly would use whatever method she's found that works for her, and she wouldn't care how it looks," O'Neil says. "Same goes for the way she allows herself to be seen in silly costumes that aren't a bit flattering to her buxom figure. She likes herself, she knows she looks motherly and friendly, and that's good enough for her."

Isobel's and Dolly's opposing character traits make for heated exchanges of witty barbs designed to keep the laughter rolling, but the cast and crew agree there's more to the show than cooking up humorous trouble.

"There are a lot of gags and comedic moments in the show, but we have worked hard to uncover the real person behind the faces shown on TV," McCormick says of his direction. "Our goal is to not only make you laugh but touch your heart in brief moments during the show that demonstrate we all sometimes make choices when we are younger that we often regret as we grow older."

Sharp echoes McCormick's sentiment when discussing how she approached her character's deeper relationship with Dolly.

"I considered the scenario of having a love/hate relationship with friends you have known all your life," Sharp says. "You can grow apart, you can have old hurts and disappointments between you, but you still retain this deep bond of friendship that never goes away.

"I think that is the essence of Dolly and Isobel's relationship. We collide almost every moment that we are together, but you see glimmers of collaboration when we are creating on 'our' show."

"The show is just plain funny," O'Neil says. "It's slapstick, it's farce, but it also addresses very real issues of family, friendship, loyalty, keeping good memories and discarding bad ones."