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by C.J. Ehrlich and Philip J. Kaplan

Rover Dramawerks

Directed by Carol M. Rice
Set Design – Erica Rémi Lorca
Lighting Design – Jeff Mabray
Costume Design – Cynthia Beene
Sound Design – Jason Rice
Properties Design – Jack Piland
Fight Choreographer – Joseph L. Taylor II
Dance Choreographer – Mark-Brian Sonna
Stage Manager – Darcy Koss

Max – Gary Eoff
Natasha – Jessica Adame
Alvin – Robert San Juan
Suzie – Kristi Smith
Bouncer/Vince/Old Lady – Matt Stepan
Hot Dog Vendor/Ignatz/Old Lady – Dale G. Gutt
Marshmallow – Blue

Reviewed Performance: 1/22/2015

Reviewed by Rachel Elizabeth Khoriander, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Last spring, Rover Dramawerks announced its first play contest. It invited and received participants from all over the world, offering cash prizes and production of the first-place winners during Rover’s fifteenth season. The Cupcake Conspiracy, written by New Yorkers C.J. Ehrlich and Philip J. Kaplan, won the category for full-length play and is now in production at Rover Dramawerks newest location.

The Cupcake Conspiracy farcically depicts two cases of mistaken identity, which leads to more trouble than one could imagine. Max is a retiring, socially-awkward man, soon to be divorced, and decides to meet his online paramour atop the Empire State Building. When he arrives, however, she is not quite as he pictured. But determined to turn over a new leaf and pursue a more adventurous lifestyle, he decides to continue on his date with the whimsical (and, as it turns out, incendiary) Natasha and ends up thoroughly enmeshed in a plot involving weaponized cupcakes and a lot of breaking and entering.

Gary Eoff and Jessica Adame play characters Max and Natasha with a gentle charm. Eoff physically constructs Max as artless and slightly lumbering, but enables Max’s earnestness to show through in his facial expressions and eager acceptance of the opportunity for adventure proffered by Natasha. Similarly, Eoff’s hunched shoulders and staid demeanor embody the confinement that has become ever-present in their relationship, even as his downcast eyes and stolen glances hint at an unresolved lingering tenderness. Eoff evolves Max’s softer side which helps make both his character’s delayed understanding of the conspiracy and his playful rapport with Adame’s Natasha more believable.

Visually, Adame is the epitome of what one would expect from a Slavic woman of intrigue, with her flowing dark hair, dark eyes, and exotic facial features. Further, her nonchalant delivery of some rather harrowing lines adds to what is in many ways a stock character. Both she and Eoff demonstrate a talent for improvisation that makes slight gaffs in the performance either unnoticeable or seem to be designed additions to the plot, but Adame’s timing is often slightly rushed, leading to a sense of awkwardness between her character and Eoff’s, and counteracting some of the comedy inherent in their scenes.

This is not the case for Robert San Juan and Kristi Smith, who play Alvin and Suzie, respectfully. San Juan and Smith have excellent comedic timing, though their chemistry is not always evident. Portrayals of their characters, however, are handled adroitly. As Alvin, San Juan deftly flips between different characterizations and voices, and while the transitions aren’t always as clean, the effects are entertaining, adding to the mystery of Alvin’s identity and demonstrates San Juan’s flexibility as an actor.

Similarly, while character Suzie doesn’t vary much from high-strung and attention seeking, both well-played by Smith, when recognitions do occur within the character, Smith subtly downshifts into introspection. Though subtle, her character is the only one within the play to have much of a trajectory, and Smith emphasizes this as she allows her posture, vocal tones, and facial expressions to soften and grow more settled as the show proceeds.

The cast is rounded out by Matt Stepan and Dale G. Gutt who both play various peripheral characters, including a tap dancing bouncer, a hot dog vendor, a pair of old ladies, and Natasha’s buffoonish cupcake-baking henchmen. Both demonstrate great dexterity and are convincing in their separate roles; I did not immediately recognize the little old ladies were, in fact, the same two actors. Similarly, both Stepan and Gutt exhibit well-honed comedic timing, though an interjected short scene reminiscent of the Three Stooges is peculiarly placed and falls a bit flat. This is likely more a fault of the script than the actors.

A continual strength I’ve noted throughout productions I’ve seen at Rover Dramawerks is set design, and the set of The Cupcake Conspiracy is yet another winner. Erica Rémi Lorca’s design is understated yet full of detail. From the working elevator doors, emblazoned with imagery specific to the Empire State Building, to the Murphy bed that pulls down from the wall, the set design is spot on and helps keep scene changes short and sweet.

Costume design by Cynthia Beene is similarly strong and fitting to the various characters. Natasha’s dark, fitted and flowing clothing and high boots is appropriate garb for her role as an Eastern European vixen. Similarly, the timid, awkward Max is appropriately clothed in collared shirts, sweaters, and chinos, while “man-of-mystery” Alvin sports less formal wear consisting of camouflage or dark, less classically cut suits paired with shirts without collars. Suzie’s uptight, business-like personality is emphasized by sheath dresses and expensive heels, which soften into jeans and more casual wear as her character shifts, and the various peripheral characters are fittingly outfitted; a standout is the leather suit worn by the tap dancing bouncer.

Jeff Mabray’s lighting and Jason Rice’s sound design are both minimal and unobtrusive, effectively moving the story along, and Mark-Brian Sonna’s choreography is inventive, though delivered a touch mechanically by the performers.

Overall, The Cupcake Conspiracy sports a fun script, albeit one with a few rough edges, a competent cast, and an excellent technical team. Going to the theatre with an expectation of fun, the production delivers more than enough reason to enjoy oneself.

Rover Dramawerks
221 W. Parker Road, Suite 580
Plano, TX 75023

FINAL WEEK through January 31st.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 pm

Ticket prices are $16.00 Thursday and $22.00 Friday-Saturday.
Student, senior, and Group discounts are available.

For information and to purchase tickets, visit, or call the box office at 972-849-0358.