Wanna forget about politics, the economy, natural disasters and all of life’s other stresses? See a performance of Daddy’s Dyin’–Who’s Got the Will?
The last time I saw a cast this spectacular on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage was, well, I’m not sure when. But my friend and I were in stitches for a full two-plus hours, and so was the rest of Friday night’s audience.
My hat’s off to playwright Del Shore, who has captured the essence of the Texas stereotype and carried it through an entire play, start to finish.
A black comedy that’s as hysterically funny as any comedy, black or otherwise, Daddy’s Dyin’ transports us to the Lone Star state and into the home of multiple-stroke patient Buford Turnover. Buford, a crotchety and confused curmudgeon of a family patriarch, expresses his miserable disposition through the ample talent of actor James Frank Crabb.
As his four adult children gather for Buford’s death watch from parts widespread, the diverse personalities face conflicts galore, as feared prior to her siblings’ arrival by local daughter and Daddy’s caretaker, Sara Lee (Judy Gish).
Also dwelling in Buford’s house is Mama Weelis, the mother of Buford’s deceased wife. A devoted grandmother, but not one to be underestimated nor dissed, Mama Weelis is larger than life and a tad intimidating in the capable hands of actress Geraldine D. Fuentes.
So Sara Lee’s two sisters and one brother descend all at once, two sporting significant others who only add to the mayhem. Sister Lurlene (Gina Stickley) is the prudish and slightly bossy but surprisingly tolerant God-fearing Lurlene, whose husband has stayed behind. Selfish sisterly sexpot Evalita (Elizabeth M. Desloge), the consummate white trash with five or six failed marriages behind her, arrives with her devoted fiancé, the hippy-dippy Harmony (Eddie Teran), in tow. Harmony, who turns out to be the story’s patient “observer” and surprising protagonist, makes us his cheerleaders as he gradually has the same effect on the family.
Cast member Kevin Wisney-Leonard, as brother Orville, gets the wife-abusing, pot-bellied, trash-talkin’ redneck boor routine down pat. What a performance! He’s the one we love to hate. And along with vanity vixen Evalita, Orville cares only about finding Daddy’s misplaced will.
Orville’s long-suffering wife Marlene (Margaret Schugt), whose infectious excitement over every ounce of weight loss wins her our affection, is diminished under Orville’s threatening verbal abuse.
Kudos to director Martha Duncan for putting together this top-notch cast, and for mounting a truly professional production. David Scaglione’s set design is beautifully detailed. Costume designer Donne Fritsche’s outfits– from Lurlene’s churchy dresses to Orville’s too-tight pants to Evalita’s Farrah Fawcett-style wig, mini-skirt and fishnets– really rock.
So will Harmony stay with Evalita? Will Marlene stay with Orville? Will Evalita and Orville get their comeuppance? Will Daddy’s will turn up? Will anyone be denied an inheritance? And will the family find a way to come together? Get yourself to the Long Beach Playhouse and find out. You’ll thank me, I promise.
Daddy’s Dyin’–Who’s Got the Will? continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through June 5. General admission tickets are $22; $20 for seniors. Student tickets are $12 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees on May 9, 16, 23 and 30 at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org.