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Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.

This Hilarious Bit of Fluff will Leave You Laughing from Beginning to End

Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.
The bride (Daniela Ryan) and groom (David Brooks) are
finally smiling.

Desert Theatreworks (DTW) starts its 2022-23 season with a bang - its production of J. Dietz Osborne's and Nate Eppler's farce, SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS, is a must-see. It is hilariously written, fabulously staged, and brilliantly acted.

SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS is the sequel to SOUTHERN FRIED FUNERAL, which DTW produced in 2018, and which includes many of the same characters. Several of the actors repeated their earlier roles, although there have been a few changes. I reviewed FUNERAL very favorably, and this production of NUPTIALS manages to exceed the first show's high bar. A bona fide farce, unlike FUNERAL, which had some poignant moments, NUPTIALS features craziness all the way through and keeps the audience laughing from beginning to end. The night I attended, the audience applauded at the conclusion of almost every scene.

SOUTHERN FRIED FUNERAL took place in Dorothy Frye's kitchen in Edinburgh, Mississippi. NUPTIALS has moved the primary action to the living room, although a running gag consists of people being sent into the kitchen to keep them from overhearing conversations or from encountering people who have just entered the house.

Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.
Friends Fairy June (Renee Poignard) & Martha Ann (Barbara Fast)

The plot again centers around the off-kilter Frye family. Dorothy (Shirley LeMaster, in both plays), the mostly normal matriarch, has not been able to put her widow's grief behind her two years after her husband's death. Now, Dorothy's daughter, Harlene, who moved back home shortly after her dad's funeral, has finally decided to settle down with a decent man, a lawyer named Atticus van Leer (David Brooks, reprising his much smaller role from FUNERAL). Harlene (played once again by Daniela Ryan) keeps getting cold feet about marrying Atticus, but with the wedding two days away, it looks like it MAY just take place. Then again, everything keeps getting in the way, including the last-minute need to substitute as wedding coordinator the church's odious Son Shine committee chair, Ozella Meeks (Laura Ortega, reprising her role) - not to forget a former boyfriend (Michael Pacas), who pops in at the last minute. With this and other meshugas going on, the wedding plans come crashing down faster than the Phantom's chandelier.

The entire cast and crew - new and returning - perform enthusiastically and energetically. They each have their own unique talents that add to the whole, and there are no weak links. DTW's artistic director, Lance Phillips, who brilliantly directed the show, imprints his love of "movement theatre," heavily contributing to the comedy. Several of the most hilarious moments are not set out in the script, including howlingly funny, silent "scenelets" between some of the main scenes. Perfect choreography throughout the show and a cast whose members are up to the physicality generate many of the laughs.

Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.
The boyfriend (Michael Pacas), Sammy Jo & husband
(Katrina Dixon & Raul Valenzuela), and Dorothy (Shirley LeMaster)

Katrina Dixon, who plays Harlene's sister, Sammy Jo, hops all over the stage doing complex physical maneuvers while delivering over-the-top lines, entrancing the audience in the process. She and her stage sister, Daniela Ryan, can't decide whether love or anger should triumph. These two actors are sublime together. (Disclosure: I have performed with Katrina and Daniela before, as well as with four other cast members). Director Phillips enhances the humor with his cast of a thousand faces, their rubber visages generating numerous own laughs. Regarding the facial expressions, watch especially for Raul Valenzuela, playing against his usual type as Sammy Jo's somewhat sensible husband; Michael Pacas, managing to keep his face clueless as the heartthrob ex-boyfriend who causes the older ladies to go into vapors; Renee Poignard as the aptly named Fairy June, who does not seem to live on the same planet as most of us; and Laura Ortega as sourpuss Ozella, whose facial muscles must ache after every performance from their numerous contortions in creating a passel of frowns and glares. And, speaking of living on another planet, Dewey, Jr. (Kevin Mann, a newcomer to DTW, whom I'm hoping we'll see many times again), Dorothy Frye's son and youngest child, marches to his own beat even more than Fairy June. Mr. Mann is tall and husky, and he looks absolutely adorable prancing around in Dewey's duck-printed pajamas. The script implies that Dewdrop, as his mother lovingly calls him, might well suffer from autism or an intellectual disability, but Mr. Mann's portrayal is respectful - he plays Dewey as sweet and earnest. That's how his family members and friends respond to him as well; for example, when Dorothy tells him that it's fine with her if he fixes his own breakfast, she adds, "If you need help with your cereal, just holler." This COULD be a snarky line, but Dorothy delivers it straight, showing the audience her patience with her sometimes exasperating son.

Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.
Two dear friends

Four of the characters - pickle magnate Vester Pickens (Herb K. Schultz, in a break from his string of nebbishy roles); Martha Ann, who is Dorothy's best friend since childhood (Barbara Fast, another talented newcomer to DTW); and Shirley and Atticus, are the "straight people" (using the term in the comedic sense). They each have to play their roles as if there is no insanity going on around them, and they pull off their parts beautifully.

Little touches by the director and designers add to the hilarity. For example, Michael Pacas, as the ex-boyfriend, walks in wearing a lush, ill-fitting wig that sets up the ladies' comments about his wonderful hair. And Laura Ortega, as Ozella, looks an awful lot like Dana Carvey's SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE church lady, with her pulled-back hair and severe dress. I sure wouldn't want to discuss school prayer with her.

Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.
Dewey Jr. (Kevin Mann), who dances to his own beat.

There is another point regarding the casting for which I'd like to give kudos to DTW: The characters in SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS are clearly all straight, white Christians, and the playwrights skewer the region's foibles, albeit in a good-natured way. However, Lance Phillips has chosen a cast that includes, among others, Latino, Black, and Jewish people. I am thrilled to see community theatres open more opportunities to people who do not fit the likely appearance of their characters.

When the word gets out, people will be busting down the door to buy tickets to SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS, because it's hilarious, and deserves to sell out. Go see it - unless you're as much of a sourpuss as Ozella.

Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.
The Cast

The rest of the production team consists of Lance Phillips (set design); Ron Phillips (CEO); Rebecca McWilliams (production manager, set decoration, costumes, hair, makeup, and props), Phil Murphy and Mariah Pryor (lighting design), Adriana Reyes (stage manager, props, sound design, and lightboard operator), Alana Mittleman (assistant stage manager and soundboard operator), Jeff Mazer (technical lead), and Shirley LeMaster (dialect coach). SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS is produced by special arrangement with Playscripts, Inc.

Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.
Odious Ozella (Laura Ortega), actually smiling, and Vester Pickens
(Herb K. Schultz)

SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS will run through Sunday, September 25, 2022, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. All performances take place at the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo Street, Indio, CA 92201. Check the ticket purchase information at www.dtworks.org for specific prices and schedules or call (760) 980-1455.

The rest of the 2022-23 season consists of:

William Gibson's THE MIRACLE WORKER (9/30/22-10/9/22)

A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER (10/14/22-10/30/22)

Neil Simon's BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (11/4/22-11/27/22)

Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS: THE MUSICAL (12/10/22-12/22/22)

NUNSENSE A-MEN! 1/13/23-2/5/23)

Agatha Christie's THE MOUSETRAP (2/10/23-3/5/23)

Jimmy Buffet's ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE (3/10/23-4/2/23)

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG (4/14/23-4/30/23)

THE LAST FIVE YEARS (5/12/23-5/21/23)

PHOTO Credit: Ron Phillips and Jay Jarvis

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Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.Review: SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS at Desert Theatreworks is a Must-See.
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Desert Theatreworks (DTW) starts its 2022-23 season with a bang — its production of J. Dietz Osborne's and Nate Eppler's farce, SOUTHERN FRIED NUPTIALS, is a must-see. It is hilariously written, fabulously staged, and brilliantly acted.

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