CHRONICLES LIFE AS WE KNOW IT
Text & Photos by Sherri Rase
“Now who’s to say
who’s a saint and who’s a sinner…?”
The opening bars of the song that opens the play Sordid Lives sets the stage for the whole piece. Bitsy Mae Harling (Sally Ann Piacentino) is our dulcet angel who’s the philosopher/commentator/Greek
chorus of this fabulous comedy about folks that some might label white trash. More later about our
friend Bitsy Mae.
Bitsy Mae Harling (Sally Ann Piacentino) picture by
Set in Winters, Texas on the eve of the
funeral of Peggy Ingram, who defines the opposite of serendipity having met her
end tripping over her married lover’s wooden legs on the way to the motel room
bathroom. Her family and friends
come to grips with her passing in their own ways. The play is divided into four chapters that each could stand
as one-act plays.
“..it’s tough enough to trudge from brunch to dinner…”
Ty Williamson, played here by Cem Uyanik, is the interlocutor of the play. Ty introduces each section in terms of
his self-centric narrative, played to a “T” by Mr. Uyanik. We get both a sense of Ty’s need for
self-preservation as he’s finding his stride as a gay man, but also the
pervasive rejection of, and love of, our families as they are. And how on earth will we deal with them
in the pressure cooker of a family funeral?
“…Ain’t it a bitch sorting out our Sordid Lives…”
Sissy Hickey, played by Edrie Ferdun, is in the midst of quitting smoking when her
sister, Peggy, kicks the wooden leg – um, bucket. Ms. Ferdun is
a natural as she joneses for a butt, even resorting to lighting matches for the sulphurous contact high they provide. Despite her own tribulations
coordinating her sister’s arrangements and providing her home as a gathering
place, Sissy opens her arms nonetheless to Noleta Nethercott, her neighbor whose husband was the cause of
Peggy’s untimely death.
Noleta is played by Denise Harbin whose
personal expression is far different from the woman she portrays. Denise is a more tailored, Ivory Girl
type who dives into the made-up and wiggy Noleta with reckless abandon. Managing to say more with tears than many manage with words, Noleta is a real piece of work. And wait till the Valium kicks in!
Once Noleta takes her bottle of Valium booty
back to her own home, Latrelle Williamson, played (Barbara Flood) sweeps into Sissy’s living room like a
hurricane. Ms. Flood provides an
interesting, figured characterization of Latrelle, displaying plenty
tight-assedness at the beginning to set the stage for her Act IV epiphany with
her son Ty.
Ultimately, the spat between Sissy’s adult nieces Latrelle and LaVonda Dupree (Michelle Coffaro)
over whether the dead woman would be considered gauche to wear a favorite fur
at her own funeral drives Sissy back to Doctor Nicotine. Michelle Coffaro is part of the regular Island Rep company and is a
dirty-winged honky-tonk angel in providing the slightly cynical, Texas-flavored
folk wisdom that inspires this play through and through.
“…now it’s easy
for the pot to call the kettle black”
Noleta and GW Nethercott (Denise Harbin and Dennis Callahan) (picture by Sherri Rase)
Shores now takes us to Bubba’s where we see some
of the men of Winters. Wardell Owens (Seth Michael Donsky) is behind the bar,
presiding over his brother Odell (John Philip), a simple man who’s fascinated
by string tricks like Jacob’s Ladder, GW Nethercott (Dennis Callahan), double amputee accidental murderer, and local barfly Juanita
(Vicki Solomon). Their reveries of
State Fair horror stories and the tale of how Peggy came to be deceased is
interrupted by best friends Noleta and LaVonda who are now more than three sheets to the wind and
armed to the teeth having been inspired by Thelma
and Louise. GW is played very
realistically by Callahan who is extremely critical of Noleta,
when GW ought to be looking in the mirror. When Odell is being made over by the rootin’-tootin’ Noleta, he is utterly believable as a regular guy
horrified by the gender-bending he’s undergoing – and how in blazes did
he get here?!?! It is revealed
that Wardell beat up LaVonda’s gay brother, Brother
Boy, more than two decades prior because, best buddies as they were, Wardell
couldn’t deal with his best buddy being in love with him. Donsky infuses Wardell with such
sincerity as he’s confessing the burden of the last twenty-plus years that you
know something cataclysmic will soon occur. Lives change in an instant, especially where firearms are
“…and we struggle
for acceptance from birth to death…”
Dr. Eve and Brother Boy (Robyn Murray and Tom DiMastri) picture courtesy of
The next vignette is Brother Boy’s 68th session with Dr.
Eve Bolinger. Tom DiMastri is flawless as Brother Boy. Many of us may know some drama queens, but Brother Boy is
dynamic and organic at the same time, with the performance coming from
somewhere in the Manipura chakra. Perfect considering this is where the
seat of our transition from simple to complex emotion resides, as well as
energy and assimilation. Brother
Boy has been trying for 23 years to be something he ain’t. Dr. Eve, played by Robyn Murray, is
that complicated combination of edgy and self-centered, hidden until Brother
Boy mines the source of her discontent – his inability to change
according to her formula. Ms.
Murray and Mr. DiMastri have brilliance and intensity to their exchanges that
makes this locking of horns one of the most enjoyable in the show. And to show you that heroes still
exist, Wardell rides in to sweep Brother Boy off his feet and rescue him in an
expiation of his own guilt. Dr.
Eve’s offer (of herself) is not honored and thus symbolically Brother Boy
rejects heterosexuality and “reparative” therapy for his non-disease.
Brother Boy and Wardell (Tom DiMastri and Seth Michael Donsky) picture by
“…Who’s to say
who you can love and who you can’t…?”
The final chapter brings our host of characters together at Peggy’s funeral
service. Bitsy Mae kicks it up a
notch with a bit more of a shocker – that she and Peggy were “very
friendly”…with a significant look. Ms. Piacentino conveys volumes with a single expression and her faux
Texas accent was spot-on. Bitsy
Mae holds her head up despite the fact that she knows what people are saying
about her. That takes guts.
Ty comes “out” to his Mom, and speaks to his dead Grandmom, as
everyone does at this endgame. GW
tries to burn his legs in expiation, but of course fails at that as miserably
as he fails at giving Peggy some last words of his devotion.
Sissy advises her dead sister then realizes dead is dead, and Latrelle
is still concerned with preserving the tatters of her mother’s reputation. John Philip does double duty as the
somewhat randy Reverend and all of our Sordid Lives have one chapter closing as
Cast of Sordid Lives picture Sherri Rase
Nearly every single one of us likes to believe that we have the lock
on family dysfunctionality. And
any one or more of us may be correct. But when you see the darkly comic, almost literally gallows-humor of Del
Shores’ Sordid Lives, you may just
change your mind. Make sure you
see it before the end of this very limited run. Tickets are $30 and only Sunday shows are available, but
luck may be on your side so don’t hesitate.
Expertly directed by Richard LaFrance, lighting by Michael Spina,
stage manager Rob Wisdom and styling by Andrew Loren Resto, this is thought
provoking stuff for a late summer evening.
Ocean Walk, in Cherry Grove on August 1 thru 17. Fri-Sat: 8 pm, Sun: 7 pm.
Tickets: $30. Tickets: 631 597-9439
On the weekend of
August 22-24, The Island Repertory Theatre Company will offer
two special events in its annual New Plays and Playwrights Series. On
August 22-23, "The Rarest of Birds", a play written and directed
by John C. Wood, based on the life of actor Montgomery Clift (photo
attached), will play The Tides Playhouse. Fresh from a well-received
off-Broadway engagement, the show stars professional actor Omar Prince (photo
attached) who received rave reviews for his outstanding performance.
On August 24, The Rep will present a staged reading of a new play
by Tony Finstrom entitled " "Between The
Covers," who describes his latest work as a cross
between "The Devil Wears Prada" and "All About
Eve," and adds (with a wink) that "of course the characters are
purely fictitious, and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is
"Between Covers" will be directed by Rep artistic
director Richard LaFrance. The cast includes mainland theatre director
David Dubin, cabaret entertainer Don Verderoff, Island Rep acting ensemble member Dennis
Callahan, actor Bob Verbrugge and professional
female impersonator Charity (photo attached.)
The Tides Playhouse, Ocean Walk, Cherry Grove, Fire Island. Call 631 597-9439 for ticket
availability. Admission is $30.