Advanced Search | Search A!:
Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Review: Barter Theatre

Barter Theatre's production of
Barter Theatre's production of "The Red Velvet Cake Wars" runs through Aug. 18 in Abingdon, Va.

Laughter (and Red Velvet Cake) proves the Best Medicine

By Robert McKinney / Special to the Herald Courier | July 03, 2012

*** This story appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier on July 1. ***

True story: Sometime about the last of April I bent over to do I don't remember what and, when I tried to straighten up, my whole back from my shoulder blades to the tip of my coccyx sent a spasm through my body that I can only guess is about what a doomed felon feels in the electric chair for about six seconds. My jolt lasted for the next six weeks. Getting into bed hurt like the old dickens and getting out — or trying to — was worse.

All I wanted to do was lie on our cool brick floor with the two basset hounds.

I almost did not go to see the Barter Theatre's production of "The Red Velvet Cake Wars" but I haven't missed more than three or four Barter plays in 20 years or so ... so, painfully I managed to take my seat. The house lights went down and I was whisked away to Sweetgum , Texas .

Now, I have lived in small-town Texas and I don't know if Nicholas Piper, the play's director, ever has or not, but he and the actors have totally nailed rural life in the Lone Star State .

Which means, speaking right off the hip, that it's a Texas-sized hoot.

I knew these people! I have never laughed so hard in my life and the pain monster that had been spurring me hard for more than six weeks apparently got bucked off somewhere near Little Rock. Exactly where I hadn't noticed.

When it comes to cat-scratching, conniving, gossiping, back-biting, squabbling and in-fighting, nobody does it better than Texans, but, beneath all the bellowing and screeching there is a good-heartedness and love that gives the whole pistol-pack'n bunch a solid foundation.

The cast includes Holly Williams, Carrie Smith, Mary Lucy Bivins, Michael Poisson, Wendy Piper, Ashley Campos and about half a dress, Tricia Matthews, Jasper McGruder as the sheriff, Rebekah Anwyll, Holly Williams, Sam McCalla and Rick McVey whose new glass eye keeps making its bid for freedom as it ricochets from couch to floor to cole slaw.

By intermission I very cautiously began to feel ... nothing!

The second act proved even funnier than the first. Everyone in the theater was laughing so riotously that the seismographers in California must have thought Texas had continently drifted off by itself. As for me, I was laughing so hard that tears were running down both legs and into my Justins.

And my back pain was absolutely, totally, most decidedly gone!

Whatever had been out of place down in my spine's L-3 and L-4 neighborhoods must have two-stepped back into line. I walked — practically danced — out of the Barter with no back pain what-so-ever! Of course, given some of the costumes, a small amount of testosterone might have been involved.

Now, I am not saying that Robert Porterfield, Barter's founder, is ready for sainthood just yet, but I can personally testify to his performing at least one miracle.

And, oh yes ... Red Velvet Cake? It plays a part in the story, but you're just going to have to go see what it is for your own self.

Cee Cee, Gaynelle, Bitsy, Newt, Purvis, Peaches all the rest say "Come on over!"

Red Velvet Cake is being served up in big Texas-sizes slices through Aug. 18. For info and reservations: (276) 628-3991 or

A! ExtraTopics: Review, Theatre