When a theatrical property has been turned into a movie and also a TV show, you can be sure it has some popular appeal. And so it is with Sordid Lives by Del Shores, the down-home Texas comedy that explores a big ol' dumpster full of white trash with joyful abandon.
This is a make-fun-of-the-low-IQ-rubes show that is primarily an exercise in shooting dad-gum fish in a gol-durn barrel, and it does so without apology. But thanks to a few outstanding performances, the play manages to overcome stereotype bashing, over-written scenes, and a forced gay-friendly happy ending.
A summary of the story, which takes place in four different locations, requires diving into a confusing welter of closely related backwater characters, so get a firm grip on your grits.
Family matriarch Peggy is "dead as a mackerel," having met her demise while consorting with an injured Viet Nam vet named G.W. who carelessly left his wooden legs on the floor. Peggy tripped on them and hit her head on the skuzzy motel room sink.
We find this out since Peggy's sister Sissy (Lauri Hammer) is beginning to mourn, her house filling with donated food. One casserole is brought over by her friend Noleta, who is doubly crushed since she is married to the philandering limb litterer, G.W.
Soon, Peggy's daughters Latrellle and LaVonda show up, each of whom is tangled up in their own emotions. Their sibling Earl, known as "Brother Boy," is not around since he's a gay crossdresser who's been institutionalized for years. Brother Boy was sent to a mental institution after his good friend Wardell discovered his secret.
Now Wardell (Wes Shofner) hangs out in the local dive with his dim-witted brother Odell (Clint Elston), G.W. (a game Tyson Douglas Rand), and bar fly Juanita (the cryptic and consistently funny Marcia Mandell).
Unfortunately, this bar scene, in which the strapped Noleta and LaVonda team up to confront G.W. and his posse, lacks credibility and goes on far too long, softening the show's comedy momentum. But it does have one of the best lines, when Odell tells self-pitying Wardell, "Get off the cross, buddy, we need the wood."
In the second act we meet Brother Boy, dressed up as Tammy Wynette and fending off the insidious homosexual reparative therapy practiced by shrink-from-Hades Dr. Eve Bolinger.
Each scene, including the final one in a funeral parlor, is preceded by a song nicely crooned by Bitsy Mae Harling (Lisa L. Wiley) and an isolated monolog by Latrelle's gay son Ty. Zac Hudak as Ty handles these disconnected reminiscences with panache. At least until the end, when the playwright goes all touchy-feely, providing words that no one could credibly deliver.
Under the deft direction of Clyde Simon, most of the heavy comedy lifting is done by five of the actors. Elaine Feagler as Noleta is an absolute stitch when she first shows up in Sissy's home, toting a Campbell's soup casserole and weeping. This is one glorious, hilarious mess of a person.
As Latrelle and LaVonda, Lucy Bredeson-Smith and Amy Bistok-Bunce each craft distinctive characters that are as big as all Hell and half of Texas. Bredeson-Smith twists with luscious agony over her son Ty's sexual orientation and sexy, big-haired Bistok-Bunce sprays rude 'tude in all directions.
Another over-extended scene, in the psychiatrist's office, works better since Liz Conway as the maniacal doc and Jonathan Wilhelm as flouncing and swishing Brother Boy chew the scenery in amusing and complimentary ways.
There's a pickup-load of laughs in Sordid Lives, and it all would land more effectively if playwright Shores weren't so keen on making everything work out perfectly for the gay characters. Pinning a pink paper heart on these raucous proceedings is too cloying by half.
But it's mostly a rip-snortin' ride up to that point.
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