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Theater Review

Well, this just takes the cake

November 06, 2009|F. Kathleen Foley

She knew you were coming and she baked a cake.

Celebrity chef Jewell Rae Jeffers, comical alter-ego of Donna Jo Thorndale, spends the better part of her show, "All Cake, No File," assembling a coconut cream "Prison Break" sheet cake while nattering on about matters domestic and geopolitical.

"All Cake" is part of the Actors' Gang's WTF?! Festival, a series designed to raise money for the company's community outreach programs. Subtitled "A Johnny Cash Prison Tribute/Cooking Show/Concert," "Cake" will benefit the Gang's prison programs. That's appropriate, because Jewell Rae has a soft spot for ex-cons. At one point, she asks, "Are there any convicted felons in the house tonight? Don't tell me -- I'll fall in love."

Kentucky native Thorndale uses Jewell Rae as the perky exponent of her political beliefs. Pointing out the exits before the show, she playfully comments that Republicans might want to take note of the quickest way out of the theater.

Judging from the audience at the Ivy Substation on opening night, one suspects there's not a conservative lurking within a country mile. Jewell Rae may be preaching to the choir, but the juxtaposition of her down-home persona and liberal views results in some scathing satire.

There are opportunities for toe-tapping as well. On opening weekend, special guests the Broken Numbers Band performed crowd-pleasing original music, and the Johnny Cash tribute band, With a Bible and a Gun, provided classic Cash tunes, including a rousing rendition of "I've Been Everywhere" that rocked the house.

With her shellacked blond flip and Southern drawl, Jewell Rae makes Paula Deen look like a goth. Don't let the retro hairstyle fool you. Jewell Rae is one ticked-off domestic diva, and she doesn't suffer fools -- or conservatives -- gladly. After being thrown off her television cooking show for her radical beliefs, she is trying to keep things mellow, frequently assuring the audience, "I'm not going to get political tonight."

That's a vain hope. Controversy is Jewell Rae's favorite dish. Sometimes, the righteous indignation wears thin; one wishes Thorndale delivered more laughs with less message.

But hunger is no laughing matter, and Jewell Rae's observation that food is a "highly politicized commodity" in an increasingly famished Third World is very much to the point.

So too is her assertion that the kitchen is a "seat of power" where real social change can occur. In an era of fast food and poor nutrition, Thorndale's charming Jewell Rae is out to change the world, one lovingly prepared dish at a time. She's a little heavy-handed with her seasonings but memorably spicy throughout.



'All Cake, No File'

Where: The Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City

When: 9 p.m. Fridays. Ends Nov. 27.

Price: $15

Contact: (310) 838-4264,

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

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