IT IS TIME FOR PRIDE 2017 AND NO BETTER WAY TO CELEBRATE THE SEASON THAN
WITH THE ‘SORDID LIVES’ OF WINTERS, TEXAS.
Sissy and her sisters are finally here in San Francisco at the NCTC in SORDID LIVES now extended through June 24th on the Decker stage. The Winters Texas family of divas and drama queens are here for the best time, Pride 2017 Season in San Francisco. But why has it taken over 20 years for SORDID LIVES to come to the rainbow city by the Bay. The story between writer Del Shores and NCTC Artistic Director Ed Decker is just as sordid as the family from Texas.
The inside scoop to this feud is best explained by Decker “Concerning the delay in the play making it to NCTC has to do with the long standing rift between the playwright and I” he goes on to say “Creative differences between us during past productions were of such epic rumors that we have not spoken in years in this decade’s long squabble” “To set the record, none of what you have been hearing is true. The drama was manufactured solely to give the public what it wants - high drama in a low class setting”. And this sells tickets as SORDID LIVES is a true sell out at the NCTC, and a hoot real or not.
Del Shores’ gay comedic romp, SORDID LIVES is as a black comedy about white trash divas and a very entertaining family. This romp first premiered in Los Angeles in 1996 where it won 14 Drama-Logue Awards. In 2000, it was made into an independent film starring Leslie Jordan and Olivia Newton-John, and became a television series in 2008 for one season. The second film and the current sequel A VERY SORDID WEDDING is set to screen this summer. This clever play is formatted into four chapters, writer Del Shores developed this memory of his days in Texas as campy and often a raunchy tale based on his experience growing up gay in conservative, Texas. Keeping up with this fast-paced, Southern-accented, laugh filled script is just as challenging as remembering all the wacky and wild characters he’s created.
The main diva of the show, Peggy, is actually dead. The sharp Michaela Greeley plays Sissy, Peggy’s sister, who is afraid that all the family skeletons will come flying out of the closet at once as they gather to mourn the family’s matriarch. She plays mediator between Peggy’s daughters, the conservative Latrelle played by the likable Marie O’Donnell and the more liberal LaVonda, played by the winsome Catherine Luedtke. Both are at odds trying to comfort her neighbors, Noleta and husband, G.W., played by the capable Shannon Kase and Gary Giurbino who is the one that killed dear Peggy under humiliating circumstances, that include some wooden legs. Each player in this over the top novella has their on stage moment. A highlight of the those special hilarious bits include Noleta and LaVonda who arrive at the bar loaded with whiskey and guns jazzed about being the new Thelma and Louise.
The characters of Sordid Lives aren’t afraid of doing things that are off-limits and of course perfectly normal for a sold out San Francisco audience. The basic Del Shores’ classic with his characters having affairs, crossdressing, in the perfect wigs and heels. Shores does not shy away from serious themes such as bigotry, guilt, homosexuality, forgiveness and acceptance. The delightful Luedtke as the over the top Lavonda, and O'Donnell as Latrelle have some of the best lines “shacked up in a motel with a low-life with two wooden legs.” The superb Greeley, with the perfect Texas accent is painfully funny as Sissy as she slaps her wrists every time she has a crave to smoke. Nathan Tylutki as Odell Owens is ideal as he tells his classic "pig" stories to his pals who could care less about his life. Giurbino is authentic in his wooden legs as confused G.W. Nethercott who may be responsible for the death of Peggy.
There are many fan boys in the sold out audience who know this family and already understand all the characters and storyline with the Sordid Lives movie. It has become a classic cult Netflix midnight binge film. Director Lickteig keeps his talented cast busy on stage and the dialogue snappy and fast. His love for his wild comedy is what inspired him to be the first SF stage to present this crazy clan of Southern characters.
The pitch perfect Amy Meyers as Bitsy keeps the show moving, opening each chapter with a country tune she performs. As a framing device each scene also begins with Ty Williamson, Latrelle’s son, having his own therapy session to talk about his past and his aunts and uncles. Luke Brady plays the ex-actor Ty, who talks about his life with his therapist. Brady imbues each of his monologues with a growing sense of confidence, and his smile getting bigger and speech getting faster as he works up the nerve to be true to himself. The former soap actor Ty needs the most work before he can meet his family and his mom at the funeral and finally announce he is out of the closet. He is the perfect example of how characters don't have to be larger or louder than life to draw laughs. That's something that Shores knew, and when NCTC production finds those human moments, the humor hits both the giggles and the heart.
The set, by the award winning Kuo-Hao Lo, evokes small-town life as Sissy has set up a buffet of fried chicken and potato salad from well-meaning neighbors. The lighting by Maxx Kurzunski creates the mood for a neighborhood bar for the second chapter and funeral parlor for the final chapter. Costume Designer Wes Crain had fun with the Southern dresses and heels for the girls; all work well, and he keeps the men in Texas browns. Dialect coach Patricia Reynoso keeps the cast in tune with the white trash Southern tone, and sound designer Ryan Lee Scott brings the rifles we see in chapter two boom just right. The prop heavy show has four main sets that switch smoothly from bar, living room, jail office and funeral home created by Ting Na Wang. With all the basics cord phones, bar items and cups of ice tea that keep the first act well covered as most of the women drink from the same glass as Sissy is too lazy to switch them out.
A highlight in chapter two is the bit between the male characters who are forced to strip and dress in drag, but it takes too long to get to its payoff in part because Shores' script becomes predictable. In chapter three the elegant gowns by Crian and wigs by David Carver Ford, designed for Brother Boy, are perfect for Scott Cox’camp over the top queen who steals the show with the priceless Shores lines “Get off the cross, buddy; we need the wood.” Cox has the perfect comic timing with his jailhouse shrink Dr Eve played by the snappy Melissa O’Keefe who plays the no nonsense villain.
The coke-snorting, Dr. Eve Bolinger, played by O’Keefe goes over the top but does not overpower the very funny Scott Cox as the outrageousness Brother Boy, in his Tammy Wynette, frock. Licteig’s direction gets its best take in the final chapter: a funeral in which the family secrets are revealed, old hurts are healed, and maybe a few lessons are learned. The show’s message is simple, it is all about “Family Values” and being accepted for who we are and the brilliant Del Shores’ reflections of growing up gay in rural Texas. SORDID LIVES is a laugh out loud comedy and the perfect way to start your summer, be sure to bring your own glass for Sissy’s famous Ice Tea. Coming up next at NCTC celebrates Pride 2017 with the world premiere of JC Lee's Warplay, running June 2 through July 2.
New Conservatory Theatre Presents
by Del Shores
Directed by Dennis Lickteig, New Conservatory Theatre Center
25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco,
Must close, June 24, 2017. Tickets nctcsf.org
Photos by Lois Tema
Cast: Luke Brady, Scott Cox, Robin Gabrielli, Gary Giurbino, Michaela Greeley, Marie O’Donnell, Shannon Kase, Melissa O’Keefe, Cat Luedtke, Amy Meyers,
and Nathan Tylutk.