By Beth Lindly
Special to the Observer
Local theatre troupe Kentwood Players' production of "Sordid Lives," a dark comedy penned by Del Shores, is a familiar, enjoyable piece of theatre. It unfolds like something I might have performed in high school, albeit more swear-filled. The acting was good in some parts. But this play's strengths don't lie in its artistry. "Lives" is ultimately a work revolving around themes of family and community, and every aspect of the production contributes to them.
"Sordid Lives" is about a Texan family that has to come to grips with its own failings when the matriarch, Peggy Ingram, dies while having an affair with her younger, married neighbor. The stories and facts unravel as the play goes on, much like actual family drama does when you're on an extended vacation or at a reunion.
You meet GW, the man whose wooden legs Peggy fell over, causing her to hemorrhage and die in the motel room they were having an affair in. Other players include big-haired, gun-toting "Thelma and Louise" imitators LaVonda and Noleta, sex-addicted therapist Eve Bolinger, and Peggy's only son, "Brother Boy," a middle-aged gay man who prefers to dress as female country stars, who was sent to a mental hospital by his mother 23 years previous to beginning of the play.
The acting, admittedly, was choppy in parts, and some scenes that I thought should have been serious were downright inappropriately portrayed. (I'm thinking of Dr. Eve's attempted rape of Brother Boy in an effort to "de-homosexualize" him-though perhaps that couldn't be helped on the part of the director.) But that did not take away from the overall message of the show, and ultimately at the end of the play what was on my mind wasn't the acting, but how the scenes and writing made me feel.
The Kentwood actors who stood out to me were Greg Abbott and Samantha Barrios as siblings Brother Boy and La Vonda – it was refreshing to see honest portrayals of the variations that can take place within a single gene pool. Brother Boy, a sweet, soft-spoken drag queen, and LaVonda, a loud-mouthed free spirit, couldn't be further apart on the surface, but both share the same love for their family.
Having grown up and living in the South, maybe this play means more to me than it might to others, but I think, despite the specific setting, anyone could find something to identify with. Like any truly Southern family, when you strip away the problems you have with each other, ultimately you are (probably) on that vacation or at the reunion because you genuinely care for each other. "Sordid Lives" is about how community is family, and family is one of the deepest connections you can have with another human being.
The small theatre in which "Lives" is performed can't help but contribute to the small, hometown feel the show perpetuates. The small cast and the obvious chemistry every character has with each other suggests that the Ingrams aren't the only family represented on the stage-the Kentwood Players are a family, too.
Overall, "Sordid Lives" was definitely an amusing experience, rife with full laughs and surprisingly heartfelt family moments. The show runs until Aug. 16, so be sure to get your tickets.