Sordid Lives. Pic courtesy of Easy Street Players
Playwright: Del Shores
At: Easy Street Players, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport
Phone: 773-902-1500; $17
Runs through: Feb. 11
By Jonathan Abarbanel
Even in small-town Texas it's simply impossible for people to be as stupid and trashy as in Sordid Lives. But that's what makes this show funny, at least in parts, and perhaps a gut-buster if you're actually Texan. The problem is that it's not a good play.
Confronted with material that's way over the top, even by sitcom standards, the large cast ( 13, including the corpse ) attacks with high energy ( and higher volume; take it down ) and purposeful professionalism. Driven hard by director Dan Tursi, they never telegraph a comedy-killing awareness of being funny, peculiar or absurd. They are perfect fools, living sincerely within an animated cartoon that would put Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn to shame.
In Winters, Texas, Grandma Peggy has died after tripping over the wooden legs of her lover, the husband of her daughter's best friend. Now Peggy's hard-drinking, pill-popping relations are planting her, and letting various cats out of the bag. One such cat is Peggy's middle-aged son Brother Boy, a gay transvestite, whom she committed to a mental institution 18 years earlier. There's also grandson Ty, a closeted Hollywood actor, whose mini-monologues to his psychotherapist are the window through which we waft to Winters.
But playwright Del Shores deposits us in this family mess arbitrarily. It's as if, say, the first time you saw Lost was in the third season. You wouldn't have a clue about the characters, how they got there, or why you should give a damn about them. Shores supplies no reasons to care. Even Ty, the nominal narrator, has utterly no impact on the tissue-thin story when he returns home in the play's last scene.
Sordid Lives' four scenes play like sketches written at different times and then loosely strung together via Ty's monologues. In scene two, the Winters women, fueled by liquor and weaponry, make their men strip and don bras, makeup and ladies' hats. The forced feminization transforms Wardell, who repents beating up Brother Boy 20 years earlier. Scene three switches to the mental institution where a therapist attempts to 'de-homosexualize' Brother Boy, whose trans-y persona is Tammy Wynette. Brother Boy finally says no to his therapist and, thus, escapes with a modicum of dignity, even in full drag. ( Brother Boy is refreshingly underplayed by Steve Hickson. ) Wardell arrives to take Brother Boy home, but Brother Boy's sudden appearance at Peggy's funeral has no impact on the story or other characters. Shores, a Queer as Folk writer, clearly is the right man for a gag or comic situation but is no good with character development or structure, which is why TV shows are team-written.
Sordid Lives is shotgun comedy: Some pellets hit and others don't. It's equal parts raucous fun and shabby stereotype, and it's as queer as Texas.