★★★★☆ - Delicious
With Valerie Carpenter-Bernstien, Glenn Heath, Olga Rios, and Kim Glover, among others, director Troy Heard has assembled one of the most talented casts to bring us Del Shores’ Sordid Lives, A Black Comedy About White Trash. With minor exceptions, this is more fun than a drunken night in the local honky-tonk.
Bitsy Mae Harling played by Ginny Beall starts things off right proper, with a song on her git-tar, and we’re off and running. Beall’s wonderful vocals which help us change scenes are both funny and heartfelt.
Then we encounter poor Sissy Hickey mourning the loss of her sister, who was old enough to be her mother. With a nod, a glance, and the way she walks, Kristin Cooper brings the whole package into her portrayal. She’s right on beat with impeccable timing in dealing with her two nieces.
Latrelle (Carpenter-Bernstein) is the uptight one who managed to escape the small town and Carpenter-Bernstein is a hoot. She sashays, gobbles up pie, directing and demanding some decorum. When she finally loses her airs the transition is beautiful because she takes us along her comedic struggle to maintain. Particularly when Lavonda (Glover), the trashy sister, barges in like a bull out of the stockade demanding to allow viewing of the deceased in a mink stole - in the middle of summer.
Glover is having fun with this role and it shows. She uses the skimpy costume to great effect, and then doubles down on it. Nuance is not left to the vocal but reflected in the physical with the flip of the hair, or the pursing of the lips. When she teams up with Noleta (Rios) in scene-stealing drunkenness, the two command the stage. Rios is fearless on stage, and she delivers a wonderful performance here.
The poor departed soul was sent off to heaven by tripping over the wooden legs of G.W. Nethercott (Heath) during an illicit tryst in the local no-tell motel, and of course the entire town knows. Heath is capable of delivering monologues without uttering a single word. The patting of a hand, a sad sigh, is all it takes for him to telegraph the emotions of a character.
At its heart, the script is about how we treat those we don’t really understand; how we interact. Ronnie Lloyd Nanos brings balance in the form of Ty Williamson, Latrelle’s gay son. Using the audience as the unseen therapist, Nanos spends the bulk of the play relating his issues to cope with his redneck family in Texas. Nanos works organically, the words at times hard won; pauses and gestures working to relay emotion. Then the inflection of his voice deepens everything. He gives the play pathos and easily makes us understand and empathize.
The belly laughs and guffaws come by way of Stephen R. Sission. His Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram is over the top and rightly so. Sisson uses everything at his disposal: body language, props, costumes, and then bulks it all up with physical and vocal schtick that delivers the goods like a Blue Ribbon at the county Fair.
Amy Soloman plays his psychiatrist to the hilt. At first she’s business-like, then in desperation shows her true colors, assuring us even nymphomania dwells in small-town Texas. And Soloman makes it funny as hell.
The rest of the cast is no less enjoyable. Lisa Illia as Juanita, Michael Bennett as Wardell “Bubba” Owens, and E. Wayne Worley in the dual roles of Odell Owens and Rev. Barnes, all help to bring the meaning of white trash to its trashiest.
All is accomplished in various locales done with small, detailed touches on the tiny Onyx stage. The intimacy of the space thrusts us right into the middle of the fun. And there ain’t nothin’ could be more funner than spending an evening with the trashiest folks around.
What: Sordid Lives
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and through March 26
5 p.m. Sunday March 20
Where: Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E Sahara Avenue
Tickets: $20 (702-732-7225; www.onyxtheatre.com)
Grade: **** (Delicious)
Producer: Off-Strip Productions; Director/Scenic Design: Troy Heard; Co-Director/Costume Design: Steven R. Sisson; Lighting Design: Liz Kline; Sound Design: Joel Rudd; Stage Manager: Mark Vanis; Deck Manager: Adam Win