From left: Kaeti Bradley (Bitsy Mae), Ken Kienas (Odell), Katie… (Bud Johnson, Special to…)
Del Shores' "Sordid Lives," a self-described "black comedy about white trash," is now in rehearsal at Bowie Playhouse for a Jan. 21 opening. The Bowie Community Theatre production is being directed by John Nunemaker.
"Sordid Lives" is about a Texas family gathering for the matriarch's funeral. Characters include the matriarch's sister, adult daughters and several friends who are coping with her accidental death.
Playwright Shores has cautioned directors and actors to not make caricatures of the people in this dysfunctional Texas family.
"The [BCT] cast fits together well in a dysfunctional family unit that is a fun challenge to create," Nunemaker said. "This show is poignant, yet it's hysterical. They all have problems and their own flaws."
At a recent rehearsal, the actors portraying family members appeared intent on providing a suitable funeral for deceased matriarch Peggy. Her sister, Sissy, and Peggy's daughters, Latrelle and LaVonda, are all equally bent on enhancing Peggy's image, although they might have different ideas of what that image should be. Under fervent discussion is whether she should be buried in her precious mink stole in August.
Most cast members at the rehearsal had formed their own combination of eccentricities to suit their roles. An opening scene between Sissy (played by Joanne Bauer) and LaVonda's best friend, Noleta (Terri Trudo-Tinajera), projected clearly the anguish of Sissy, who picked the worst imaginable time to quit smoking and dealt with it by continuously snapping rubber bands on her wrist as prescribed therapy.
Sissy was also dealing cautiously with the uninvited Noleta (her next-door neighbor), whose low self-esteem was in part the result of husband G.W. Nethercott continuously calling her fat. But then she revealed G.W.'s affair with elderly Peggy, which ended in a motel room rendezvous where Peggy suffered a fatal concussion after tripping over amputee veteran G.W.'s wooden legs on the floor.
Actors Bauer and Trudo-Tinajera create likeable, flawed human characters in Sissy and Noleta. Bauer has the more difficult role in Sissy, who must deal with the accidental death of her sister under embarrassing circumstances while struggling not to smoke. Sissy also has to console the tuna-casserole-bearing Noleta, and in the next scene act as mediator between her sister's grown daughters arguing over what would be the most appropriate burial garb for their mother.
Springing to pained, ranting life were bickering sisters Latrelle and LaVonda, whose contrast is amusing and raw. Latrelle was defined by Debbie Samek, whose desperate denial of her actor son Ty's homosexuality seemed essential to her well-being. Maribeth Eckenrode as LaVonda was at the other end of the spectrum, offering free-spirited acceptance and celebration of Ty's openness, and at least tolerating "Brother Boy," the sisters' institutionalized transvestite brother Earl, who apparently believes he is Tammy Wynette and dresses accordingly.
Guitar-playing bar singer Bitsy Mae is well-played by Kaeti Bradley, who is convincing physically and vocally. Bitsy Mae's song sums up her philosophy:
"Now who's to say who's a sinner and who's a saint?
"Who's to say who you can love and who you can't?
"Now it's easy for the pot to call the kettle black.
"They're just jealous of the hot and lusty sordid lives they led."
More than an hour spent at the rehearsal proved enjoyable enough to encourage forming plans for a return trip for the show's opening, despite several cast members not yet having arrived before my departure.
If you go
Showtimes for BCT's production of "Sordid Lives" are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 21-Feb. 5 at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive. Tickets are $17, $12 for students older than 18 with valid ID and seniors older than 62. Reservations: 301-805-0219 or BCTheatre.com.