For a glimpse at “Sordid Lives,” check out The Players. With a title like “Sordid Lives,” you know you’re not in for a comedy of manners — a comedy of bad manners is more like it.
Del Shores' cult play (which was also a cult film TV show) unfolds in a one Kwik-E-Mart town in Texas in 1998. Judging by the play’s evidence, the small town Texas of that era was a well-armed (if not well-regulated) realm of big hair, sexual shenanigans, beer, iced tea, churches and bars. All that, and attitudes toward gay people straight out of 1958.
The action revolves around the Ingram family. The catalyst that sets it all in motion? Grandma Peggy Ingram has a tryst with an adulterous Vietnam War vet named G.W. (Greg Ellis) at a cheap motel — and conks her head and dies after tripping over his wooden legs. Then the multigenerational dominoes fall. The ensuing funeral ruins her sister Sissy’s (Kristi Hibschman) plans to quit smoking; provokes her daughter LaVonda (Nancy Denton) and G.W.'s wife, Noleta (Tammy Halsted), into Thelma and Louise-style, male-bashing vigilante justice; upsets Dr. Eve’s (Ruth Shaulis) plans to “dehomosexualize” Grandma’s transvestite son, Brother Boy (Eric Berkel), at a state mental institution; prompts her grandson, Ty (Camila Bustos), to come out of the closet and risk his national soap opera success; and ultimately induces Latrelle (Lynne Doyle), Grandma’s straight-laced daughter, to finally start cussing. Along the way, brawls, hold-ups, break-outs and true confessions ensue.
Del Shores' dialogue is packed with quotable, over-the-top one-liners. (“Good Lord, Latrelle. Don't you know better than to sneak up on someone when they’re talking to a corpse?”) The comedy is a mite broad, but so be it.
Director Peter Ivanov delivers the play’s belly laughs with flawless comic timing. The cast jumps into the fray with fairly authentic Texas accents and seem to be having a great time. (Audience, too.) Kudos to all previously mentioned actors. Kudos also to Lynne Doyle as Latrelle, the ultimate bar girl, and Paul Hutchison and Adam Garrison as Wardell and Odell Owen — a bartender and his boozer brother, respectively. The play serves the Brothers Owen a heaping helping of instant karma (or delayed reaction karma) for their gay-bashing sins in the 1970s. But nothing really bad happens to anybody. This isn’t a Jacobean revenge play. Shores keeps pushing the action toward redemption and wraps it all up in a Baptist Church to the tune of “Just as I am.”
Final analysis? “Sordid Lives” is a goof. Its title promises an encounter with human specimens ripped from the pages of The National Enquirer. The play delivers. Southerners might object to the white trash stereotypes, while secretly thinking, “Wow, that’s pretty accurate. The playwright most likely grew up in Texas.” (The playwright did.) Shores hits his trashy targets with a sharpshooter’s accuracy because he knows where to aim. And, despite their bad behavior, you can tell he loves his characters — even the bigots. You laugh with them and at them, but your laughter is warm.
To be fair, that laughter is a spoonful of sugar to help Shores' message of tolerance go down.
But you’ll be laughing too hard to notice.
IF YOU GO
“Sordid Lives” runs through Feb. 23, at Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information, call 365-2494 or visit theplayers.org.