l to r: Kassie Rivera, Shara Lynn Kelsey, Bonnie Antonini
Lambda Players photo
Sometimes confused and often confusing, Dell Shores’ “Sordid Lives” offers a funny, yet infuriating, vision of the psychological damage suffered by social outcasts. It’s now on stage by Lambda Players, the signal theater company emphasizing issues of particular interest to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) community in the Sacramento region.
But unlike Sean Penn’s heroic portrayal of Harvey Milk, a gay champion with supreme self-confidence, the characters in “Sordid Lives” are often victims of their own prejudice against themselves. Their worst enemies are those who want to cure them.
The play uses a kind of alternating chorus to give it philosophical weight. Bethany Hidden plays an arch Bitsy Mae, who sings, while Steve Thompson, as a solemn young Ty, a mask for Shores himself, narrates the story of his own coming out. The plot, though, is roundly comical, revolving around plans for the funeral of the Texas town’s matriarch, Peggy Ingram, who broke her head on a sink after tripping over the wooden legs of her lover.
We are taken through a dystopian family environment, ranging from Peggy’s reasonable sister Sissy (Sarah Lynn Kelsey) to the extremes of her free-spirited daughter La Vonda (Kassie Rivera) and her alter-ego, the pretentious Latrelle (Bonnie Antonini), who objects to burying Peggy with a mink coat during the hot Texas summer. With few exceptions the men are equally eccentric. At their center is G.W. Nettercott (Kurt Kurtis), the legless lover who accidentally killed Peggy.
One frustration of the first act is trying to figure out who’s who on the stage and how they relate to each other. In a peculiarly bizarre scene, Noleta Nettercott (Sandy Phillips), wife of the philandering G.W., enlists LaVonda to help seek revenge by attacking G.W. and his buddies with rifle and pistol. In the end the men are forced to act like women, one of them wearing a bra. Though funny, the scene is thoroughly confusing to those who haven’t memorized the script.
In the second act Shores demonstrates that he knows how to craft a dramatic scene. Earl (Sonny Sorelsl), a.k.a. Brother Boy and son of Peggy, has been a patient in a mental institution for more than 20 years. He’s been happy to co-opt Tammy Wynette’s identity and blonde wig. Dr. Eve (Anne Marie Patterson) uses a peculiarly erotic therapy to “dehomosezualize” him, but he rejects her advances. She had been hoping to write a book and go on the Oprah show so she could quit her job.
The play concludes at Peggy’s coffin, reuniting the family and rescuing her mink coat from the grave.
Director Matthew Burlingame keeps up a nice pace with a capable though occasionally miscast group of seasoned actors. The warm atmosphere at the Studio Theatre combines with a steeply raked seating, so that nobody has to stretch and bob to see the action.
“Sordid Lives” continues through May 30 at 1028 R Street (corner of 11th Street), Sacramento. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. All tickets are $13. Call (916) 444-8229 or go to http://www.lambdaplayers.com/. Tickets are also available at the door.