BWW Review: Zachary Clause And Courtney Cowart Kill It In SHERRY AT A FUNERAL at Pangea
Death is a cabaret-a riotous cabaret in Sherry At A Funeral, which just opened its two-night run to a sold-out crowd at Pangea. The show is created by Zachary Clause and Reed Whitney (Whitney also acting as director), performed by Mr. Clause and Courtney Cowart, with musical direction by Karl Saint Lucy.
What I love about funerals is the space they afford prying curiosity. You can get away with a lot - a funeral is an event, an opportunity to share information, gossip, as well as reflect and re-ignite long-simmering resentments. As creators Clause and Whitney so breathlessly demonstrate, a funeral is also an invitation to renew bonds to family and celebrate the ecstasies of grief, the Scissor Sisters, Elton John, and Diana Ross.
The show invites audiences once more into the world of Clause's alter-ego, Sherry Duval-Covington, as she makes a cabaret of her mother's funeral. If you're unfamiliar with the previous two shows featuring Sherry you'll still enjoy the show but some background will help.
Nightclub audiences first met Sherry in is That All There Is? The first show in what Clause calls his "Sherry Triptych." In the first show we learn of Sherry's possibly pyromaniacal tendencies - We'll never be certain if she started all those fires but we know she's been acquitted on more than one occasion and that's got to count for something!
In the second show, Sherry Takes A Holiday, we find her emotionally adrift at sea, but also literally adrift at sea on a "poop cruise," desperate to find a daughter she's quite certain she's never had, but an internet scam has led her to believe she'll find in the Cayman Islands with a few detours like a lesbian affair with the pianist at the ship's schooner bar.
Sherry is that messy friend who is constantly mucking things up but comes from a place of love. She owns her part in her problems even if she doesn't quite know how to navigate them so it's incredibly easy to cheer her on. Whom of us have not been Sherry at one point or another in our lives? She's the person you love in spite of The Whirlwinds in their wake. Speaking of creating his beloved character, Clause noted he "wanted her to feel like a real human being who's intentions are always good but things blow up in her face. Constantly setting fires and having to figure out how to put them out."
Clause relates that Sherry was born of streaming Lifetime original movies at a monthly party he hosted in Williamsburg called "Mom Radio," where he invited drag queens to do mom themed performances. On a road trip with co-creator Reed Whitney, Clause decided to riff on his Shelly Duval obsession, adding a hyphenated last name which resulted in the precarious poise of Sherry Duval-Covington.
As this most recent show opens, Sherry makes rounds of this solemn occasion, scrutinizing those gathered as she steels herself for her opening remarks. The sounds of a catholic funeral fill the air, accompanied by the clinking of glasses, Sherry welcomes her guests and begins to introduce some of the skeletons in the family closet.
Dramatic tension builds when she is forced to suffer sharing the spotlight of grief with her prodigal sister Terry. Cowart delivers a powerhouse performance as the sisters rehash well-rehearsed, reheated family psychodrama. Clause and Cowart match one another with their electrifying acting and chemistry, thrilling the audience as each skeleton out of the family's closet was revealed, articulating the estrangement between the Covington sisters and their mother.
The story is grounded by smart funeral fare and underscoring choices by music director Karl Saint Lucy. When we finally learn how Sherry's mother died-no spoilers, sorry, you have to see the show to find out- the absurdity of death is bolstered by the majestic strains of "How Great Thou Art."
I appreciate the musical choices which often support the comedy. When Sherry loses the struggle to contain her emotions she launches into a disco for a rendition of Diana Ross's "The Boss." When she reconciles with Terry we are treated to the gospel transcendence of Florence and the Machine's "The Dog Days Are Over." Courtney Cowart delivered a thunder-stealing performance as Sherry's sister, Terry. Both Clause and Cowart were stellar.
Celebrating the release from the expectations of those around us and the bondage of trying to meet their expectations Sherry at a Funeral is a ridiculously satisfying night of entertainment.
Follow Sherry at @yourmotherdarling
Photo Credit: Lukas Chmiel