BWW Review: DEARLY DEPARTED at Westcoast Black Theatre
You may know the film adaptation, Kingdom Come, starring Whoopi Goldberg and LL Cool J better than the theatrical version of Dearly Departed but either way, it makes for a lively evening of laughs while poking a little fun at the sobering thought of death.
Jessie Jones and David Bottrell's "dramedy" is centered around the very dysfunctional Turpin family who live "in and around the towns of Lula and Timson, which are located somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line". We join this quirky Southern family enduring the sweltering heat of summer, when after his sudden death, loved ones gather to lay their not so beloved patriarch to rest. Since times are hard, there is also the hilarity of a yard sale in progress that the family is staging to help cover the cost of funeral arrangements. Let the mayhem begin!
In trying to make final preparations, there are the usual family squabbles that arise pitting the different types of personalities and ambitions or lack thereof of each family member against each other. Bud's widow Raynelle is cool and collected. It's obvious the love and passion between them diminished long ago but she treats her husband's memory with respect. She does however insist his tombstone simply states, "Mean and Surly". Quietly providing some dry humor, Bud and Raynelle's youngest child, Delightful, incessantly munches her way through potato chips while displaying little reaction towards her chaotic surroundings. Sons Ray Bud and Junior debate over the cost of affording a proper send off for their father. Ray Bud fears he will be covering the expenses since his brother Junior lost all of his money in a bad business deal. Junior is also dealing with his 3 uncivilized children and his embittered, ever-nagging wife Suzanne. Ray Bud's wife Lucille is probably the sanest of the bunch, although she carries the burden of enduring several miscarriages. Then there's Bud's sister, God-fearing, Bible toting, scripture quoting Marguerite and her worthless son Royce. Adding to the mayhem is Reverend Hooker, with some questionable motives of his own, and supporting family friends Veda, Norval, Clyde, Juanita and Nadine.
The fast pace of the show keeps your attention and the comedic timing of the cohesive cast brings out the best laughs in all the right places. Set changes are cleverly managed as the stage fades to dark while The Joy Of Life singers serenade through prop and furniture placement. The characters are well defined and come to life through each actor's perceptive interpretation. You won't be able to take your eyes off Margurite, enlivened by WBTT Founder Nate Jacobs. He exquisitely surprised regular WBTT audiences by playing the epitome of an animated holy roller church lady, as full of drama as she is scriptures. Earley Dean as Royce, Marguerite's mooching son is brilliantly annoying. Dee Selmore as widow Raynelle handles her character with a sweet and classy finesse. Ashley Brooks imparts to Lucille the loving and patient personality that this crazy family needs. Brian Boyd (Ray Bud) delivers nice depth to his character, amongst the turmoil hitting him from all angles. Cindy De La Cruz (Suzanne) and Ian Fermy (Junior) really play up the bickering couple - all the way up through their reconciliation scene, which is entertaining to watch unfold. Michael Kinsey (Reverend Hooker) will make you feel like you had church. His "sermon" delivery was impeccable. Although Kourtney Paige as the inattentive Delightful had very few lines or interaction with other characters, she caught our attention with her amusing facial expressions and indifferent body language. You might find yourself craving Pringles after watching her consume a can or two throughout the entire show. The supporting cast of Lonnetta Gaines, Patric Robinson and Travis Ray added sparkle to an awesome group of players that gave us reason to chuckle and enjoy an evening of family pandemonium.
Ya'll come out and pay your respects to ole' Bud Turpin and be sure to buy something from the yard sale to help cover funeral expenses. I hear there's a macaroni and cheese loaf topped with ham slices up for grabs!
Dearly Departed runs through May 27 at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. For more information visit www.westcoastblacktheatre.org.