Review: SORDID LIVES at Palm Canyon Theatre

Del Shores' black comedy about white trash

By: Sep. 29, 2021

Review: SORDID LIVES at Palm Canyon Theatre

Palm Canyon Theatre (PCT) continues their gala 25th Anniversary Season with Del Shores' beloved Sordid Lives. I say "beloved" because this is the eighth time PCT has presented the outrageous comedy and audiences are snatching up tickets like they're going to a long awaited family reunion.

The show consists of four individual plays which have a common theme and many common characters -- sort of like photos in a family album. The unifying theme is that the matriarch of the family has died. The first playlet is "Nicotine Fit." It takes place in Sissy's living room. Sissy (Michele Davis), a southern mom of a certain age with a full can of Aqua Net cementing her hair, has just quit smoking and wears a rubber band around her wrist. Whenever she thinks of smoking, she snaps the rubber band. She is visited by La Vonda (Tiffani Lobue) and Noleta Nethercott (Laurie Holmes), and eventually by her sister Latrelle (Judith Chapman), a virtual pink tornado whose movements and rapid-fire dialogue are a constant delight. The interaction between the women as they set out the funeral potluck realistically sets the action in Texas several decades ago, and most of the laughs come not from the dialogue but from the eccentricities of the women.

The next playlet, or family snapshot, is "Two Wooden Legs." This one is set in a Texas dive bar and features mostly the men who are husbands or friends of the ladies in the first scene. Noletta's husband, G. W. Nethercott (Richard Marlow), was having an affair with the deceased matriarch. Odell Owens (Nick Edwards) and Wardell Owens (David Brooks) are close family friends. Also present at the bar is Juanita (Morgana Correlli), a bar fly who has few lines, but your eyes are always seeking her out because Corelli's drunken movements are hilarious. The men get knocked down a peg or two when two women from the first scene arrive with guns in their hands.

After intermission, we visit a mental institution where one of the matriarch's sons, Brother Boy (Michael Hadley), has been a patient for 20 years. He spends his days in drag, channeling Tammy Wynette and others. This playlet is called "The Dehomosxualization of Brother Boy," and involves a therapy session with Dr. Eve Bolinger (Se Layne). This is by far the funniest scene in the play in the hands of these two seasoned thespians. The more Dr. Bolinger tries to get Brother Boy aroused by her femininity, the more repulsed he becomes and the interchange between the characters is pure comic gold.

The last playlet is "All Laid Out (In a Mink Stole)," the funeral of Mama. Characters from the previous three playlets get together and all hell breaks loose - to the delight of the audience.

Prior to each scene, Bitsy Mae Harling (Francesca Amari) sings songs at the front of the stage or in the aisles of the theatre, accompanying herself on a pink guitar, and starting every song by planting her chewing gum on the face of the guitar. Her voice and humorous character are perfect. She joins the rest of the cast at the funeral.

And saving the best until last, every scene is preceded by a young man (Cameron Keys) sitting center stage in a spotlight and chatting directly with the audience. We eventually learn that he has been to 27 therapists, is an actor, is gay, and eventually we realize that he is the son of Latrelle. She has referenced him earlier in the show and described how she hated that he played homosexual characters in the plays she had seen him in, challenging anyone who suggests that he might actually be gay. Cameron is one of the many young actors who have been raised at Palm Canyon Theatre. I first saw him in The Music Man where he was a gangly teen in badly fitting clothing. He has grown better and better with each show, and he is masterful here in his handling of the monologues which precede each playlet. In the final scene, the funeral, he surprises his mother by attending. Frankly, if I were doing a scene across from the highly recognizable television and movie actress Judith Chapman, I would be terrified but Cameron gave and took in his scene with her as only a son could do. Their scene together at the funeral where he comes out to his mother was excellent, and maybe caused my eyes to tear up a bit.

The production was directed by Se Layne and with this being the eighth production, she knows innately what needs to be punched to milk every possible laugh out of Shores' script. J. W. Layne's set incorporates parts of each of the four playlets in the background walls, and pieces of furniture are moved on to distinguish the locations. As always, Derik Shopinski's costumes are strong, and as much a part of the southern setting as the drawls and slang.

For the first time, Sordid Lives will be presented for two weekends, so you still have a chance to see it. I recommend that you do just that!

Palm Canyon's 25th Season began with The Guys, a tribute to the heroes of 9/11. After Sordid Lives, the musical Shrek runs October 22 - November 7 followed by Del Shores' newest play, This Side of Crazy. Families will be delighted by the Christmas offering, Sound of Music, December 3 - 19. The new year starts strong with the epic Les Miserables January 21 - February 13. Next is the world premier of Palm Springs Getaway, a musical, February 25 - March 13. The dramatic classic Cyrano de Bergerac plays March 31 - April 3, then Monty Python's Spamalot April 22 - May 1, Into the Woods May 13 - 22, and Godspell July 8 - 17.

Showtimes for all productions are Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Palm Canyon Theatre is centrally located in the beautiful Uptown Design District of Palm Springs, 538 North Palm Canyon Drive, at the corner of Alejo and Palm Canyon Drive. Box office hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. For ticks or more information, call 760-323-5123 or visit

Photo by Paul Hayashi