Monday, October 12, 2015

Dearly Departed—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

What We Leave Behind (may boggle the mind)

This dark comedy is written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones and directed by JJ Harris (Artistic Director of the company).  It is playing at their space (upstairs) at 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (limited parking now located in the church lot across from the theater) through October 25th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-847-9838.

This play is definitely a very dark comedy about a very dysfunctional, backwoods family preparing for the funeral of one of their patriarchs.  There is a totally different set of rules of how these people behave toward one another and the kind of life styles they lead, compared to our so-called “civilized” society.  Some films of the past have reflected on this type of world, such as Cold Mountain and Winter’s Bones.  But this differs in that it is a darkly comedic vision of those individuals.

I must say much of the humor works, thanks to a very good Director of comedy, JJ Harris, and his talented cast.  But, as written, there are references to a miscarriage and, although poignantly done, it really should not be the subject of humor.  A scene that does cross the line, I believe, is one of a disabled son, which is definitely not a subject up for laughs.  But, outside of those mentions, many of the characters and situations are quite funny.

At the death of Bud, not a well-like man, his son RayBud (Aaron Morrow) and his mother, Raynelle (Debbie Davis), need to arrange the funeral for him.  And this means, of course, inviting the whole clan, many of whom do not get along.  This includes there mostly mute, young daughter, Delightful (Tabitha Ebert) “an accident,” who has an affinity for food, and her constant companion, her cell phone.  Then there is the other brother, Junior (Rob Harris), a mousey sort, who has a failed business in something to do with cleaning parking lots and driveways, and his luckless, nagging wife, Suzanne (Leslie Collins).

Also there is Marguerite (Cindy Swager), not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and her dullard of a son, Royce (Craig Fitzpatrick), who seems interested in only the baser things in life.  And, of course, Lucille (Amy LaRosa Peters), patient wife of Bud, who may the closest thing to a sane person in the family.

And, attending too, are the various “friends” of the family, like the Rev. Hooker (Jason A. England), who has a thriving (and wealthy) ministry of the air-waves; Veda (Pat Vichas), the long-suffering mother of a disabled son; the sultry, Nadine (Deone Jennings), who falls for anyone in pants, and has a brood of children to prove it; the devious auto mechanic, Clyde (Mark Milner); and the slutty, Juanita (Sue Harris), who is in love with her mirror…well, you get the idea.  No need to go into more of the plot and ruin the laughs.

As mentioned, the cast overall is terrific and Harris, the Director, certainly has proven, more than once with his shows, that he has a command of comedy on the stage.  There are some extremely funny sight gags, such as the expression on Junior’s face, and the reaction to his wife constant nagging at him in the car; the body language and vocal ranges of Suzanne, as she slumps her way through the story; Royce’s constant companion, a leg of a stool that he is chained to (you’ll have to see it to discover why); et. al.  Most of the story and humor works (but it could be trimmed down a bit) and plays like a series of skits on Saturday Night Live.

The actors are all really convincing in the characters they play and probably frighteningly close, perhaps, to some people we have in our own families or neighborhoods.  A couple of people in small roles, who I’ve seen before onstage, Jennings and Sue Harris, prove the old adage, there are no small roles…, as they shine in their supporting performances.  And Collins is extraordinarily good, having a real sense of both vocal and physical humor and a great sense of timing, crucial in comedies.  Hope to see more of her onstage. 

Rob Harris is excellent as the beleaguered husband and his facial expressions and comic timing are spot on.  He is a find.  And, Fitzpatrick proves, once again, that he is no flash-in-the-pan as far as his comedic talents.  He is, as he was in their Looking For Olivia, brilliant as the oversexed and morally-challenged family member.  He is to appear in Coker’s production of the Flash Gordon spoof later and hopefully will get recognized by the larger theatre community and continue to grow in his acting career.

I recommend this show but, keep in mind, it does have some questionable humor.  If you do see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

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