By Dee Jae Cox
It’s not a stretch to imagine the comedy and tragedy of being a gay man from Texas. There is just something about the juxtaposition of southern hospitality with right wing conservatism that pulls you in like watching a car driving in the wrong lane towards oncoming traffic. You just know that there’s bound to be an accident. Del Shores is one of those creative writers that manage to find the humor in the wreckage, and his play ‘Sordid Lives,’ currently in production at the Palm Canyon Theatre in Palm Springs, is bound to make you laugh out loud, as you simultaneously hold your breath waiting to find out who survives the crash. ‘Sordid lives,’ was originally produced in Los Angeles in 1996 and garnered 14 Drama-Logue awards. In 1999 it was made into a film and it soon there after became a cult classic.
Billed as ‘a black comedy about white trash,’ the synopsis alone is enough to make you curious. Who doesn’t like to peek into a window and watch the dysfunction of other peoples lives, as three generations of a Texas family gather to mourn the accidental death of the family matriarch, Peggy. Peggy’s sister, ‘Sissy’ (Shirley LeMaster) picked the wrong week to try and quit smoking, as she deals with the death of her sister and the coming together of family and friends who bring their own special brand of dysfunction into the mix.
Shore’s characters are bold and brass and aren’t afraid of crossing those conservative lines. Having a good laugh while confronting serious issues, such as bigotry, guilt, homosexuality, forgiveness and acceptance. This campy romp explores the topic of self-acceptance, but more so the idea of how family and friends come to accept one another even when it goes against everything they believe in.
Peggy’s conservative, stick-up-her-behind daughter Latrelle (Yo Younger), captures the soul of this character. Younger is one of the best actresses I’ve seen and she captivates in every role. The ever inebriated Juanita (Morgana Corelli) brings levity to the soberest of moods and kept me laughing whenever she was on stage, while the Thelma and Louise duo of Noleta (Jennifer Bennett) and La Vonda (Mary Ewing) make the boys, Odell (Don Cilluffo), G.W (Dan Graff) and Wardell (Matt Lawson) bare near all, as they are forced to confront the all too obvious double standards between men and women. Michael Hadley shines as Brother Boy, the Drag Queen who has spent most of his adult life clinging to his own truth, while his psychiatrist Dr. Eve Bolinger (Denise Strand) appears to be the real one in need of psychotherapy. And SE Layne beautifully ties the threads of these sordid lives together with her humorous and poignant musical interludes.
The casting of Ty Williamson, (Nicholas Geogea) Latrelle’s son and the narrator of this story, appeared to be the only miscast role. The character of Ty is 27 years old, Geogea looked about 16 and every time he talked about when he was a kid, I couldn’t help but think, ‘what do you mean, when?’
I have seen some of the most beautiful and creative sets on stage at the Palm Canyon Theatre, but this wasn’t one of them. There didn’t appear to be a cohesive set design, just a meshing together of the individual pieces that are required in the script. But Steve Fisher’s direction kept this cast of characters flowing easily and seamlessly across the stage and through the scenes, as each character’s story was told and the family ties were secured and knotted tightly.
Sordid Lives is a fun and moving play with a whole lot of down home charm. It is targeted more towards an adult audience and is currently in production through November 20th, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, located at 538 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.
For Reservations: Box Office: 760.323.5123 – www.palmcanyontheatre.org
Dee Jae Cox is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director of The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project.