Saturday, June 11, 2011

REVIEW: Sordid Lives

Reviewed by Sherry R. Deatrick

As the creator of the Beak Wet, Everybody series of short plays about a dysfunctional Appalachian family with a transgendered, genetically modified chicken, it seems logical that I’d love Del Shores’s Sordid Lives, presented by Louisville Repertory Company. Plus, it must be good, this is the third time LRC has produced it. Who am I to argue with success?

Let me say first off, this is not a great work of art. But, so what? Does theatre always need to be great? Sometimes, people just want a good laugh. Even though a lot of the jokes are pretty stale (this play is fifteen years old and relies on pop culture references from the time for much of its humor), there’s plenty to laugh at, especially during the second act.

Another problem with this play is – it lacks dramatic tension. Again, so what? Do we always want the formulaic exposition/conflict/resolution in which the main character wins or loses, or grows or changes? Not I! There does seem to be an attempt to follow this formula, but it just doesn’t work for me here, and the two hour show comes off like a never-ending skit. In case you don’t know the basics, a Texan matriarch named Peggy died after she tripped in a seedy motel room over the wooden legs of a Vietnam vet with whom she was having an affair. This veteran also happened to be married to her daughter Lavonda’s (Tiffany Taylor) best friend Noleta (Kimberly Peterson). Sound complex? You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

Peggy has another daughter, Latrelle (Michelle Chalmers). Latrelle, like Peggy, is a “tight-ass,” who refuses to admit she has a gay son. Peggy had her own gay son, Brother Boy (Darren McGee) committed to an insane asylum. Ty (JC Nixon) is Latrelle’s gay son, and his expository monologues are delivered to an unseen psychiatrist. Ty is having trouble coming out of the closet, as it were. This method of dishing out exposition is cute, but grows tiresome as the monologues keep coming throughout the play. On the other hand, JC Nixon engages us while delivering them in a natural way.

Peggy’s sister, Sissy (Janice Walter), is the eye of Hurricane Peggy, but she has her own problems coping. Well, this plot description is just too boring to continue with. It all boils down to: Will Latrelle follow in Peggy’s footsteps, or will she accept her son with pride? Unfortunately, this conflict is as thin as America’s Next Top Model, and the payoff falls as flat as the Bud Light at Bubba’s Bar.

I grew weary of the many loud gunshots fired by Noleta and Lavonda as they go all Thelma and Louise-y on the rotten Odell, Wardell, and GW (the veteran). This scene is fairly creepy as the ladies humiliate the redneck men for their prior bad acts. But is feminizing these men the worst thing these women can think of? How feminist is that? On the other hand, Odell (Bryce Blair) does look cute in Avon lipstick.

Just a few words about the actors – and I don’t want to single anyone out – I heard more than the usual amount of “tsk” sounds at the beginning of lines. You know, that sound your tongue makes against your teeth when you open your mouth when it’s tense? It’s distracting because it’s not natural. You don’t hear people do this very often in “real life.” There were also a lot of line flubs, or missteps, on opening night.

There are too many cast members to mention everyone, so I’ll just list a few. Kimberly Peterson (her name is misspelled in the program) was riveting as the vengeful Noleta. She is way over the top, but so what? She’s supposed to be. In some ways, she reminded me of Divine, with her flashing eyes and bright red lips, taking charge of the situation after deciding she won’t cry any longer over that dirty cheatin’ husband with no legs.

It goes without saying that Darren McGee triumphs as Brother Boy, who dresses up like Tammy Wynette. His performance is worth the price of admission. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, McGee is one of Louisville’s finest actors. Here, he doesn’t overplay this role, but draws the audience in to cheer for his triumph over the evil Dr. Eve (Jennifer Starr Tennant). Tennant does what she can with this cartoonish role, even shaking her (ample) red-bra’ed boobs at the hapless Brother Boy. But the role is just too one-dimensional for anyone to do anything with. Tennant shines, however, as barfly Juanita.

Tiffany Taylor and Michelle Chalmers are fun as Peggy’s daughters. Anyone who can move a set while wearing high heels deserves a round of applause. And these ladies made it appear effortless. Kathryn Furrow, as Bitsy Mae, belts out original tunes from her heart to the denizens of Bubba’s Bar (which resembles Hugh E. Bir’s CafĂ© in New Albany). She’s accompanied by Herschel Zahnd and Todd Ziegler.

The timing of the lighting was sluggish on opening night. The harsh yellow hues emphasized the tawdry feel of the set and costumes. In general, a crowd-pleaser. But I don't believe it merits a fourth production.

Sordid Lives
By Del Shores
Directed by Amy Lewis Ziegler
Presented by Louisville Repertory Company

The MeX Theatre
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville KY 40202
(502) 584-7777
kentuckycenter.org


Featuring Kathryn Furrow, JC Nixon, Janice Walter, Kimberly Peterson, Michelle Chalmers, Tiffany Taylor, Tom Dunbar, Joey Pate, Bryce Blair, Jennifer Starr Tennant, and Darren McGee.

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