'A black comedy about white trash'

Dysfunction is the status quo in Bay Street Theatre's Sordid Lives

The show is ‘kind of like a really fantastically hilarious soap opera,' says Bay Street Theatre director Kimmi Sampieri

Sordid Lives, the Los Angeles Times said in 1996, “has more laughs than a hunting dog has ticks. Del Shores is a master of the Texas comedy.”

Billing itself as “A black comedy about white trash,” Sordid Lives eventually became a popular feature film – “The Birdcage meets the Bible Belt,” gushed the New York Times – and then the highest–rated series on the MTV–owned network LOGO.

And now it’s coming to Savannah – appropriately, to the Bay Street Theatre at Club One, where “less traditional” plays are always welcome. Sordid Lives runs April 8–11 and 15–18.

Here’s the story, roughly sketched: Ty Williamson, a native of the fiercely Baptist town of Winters, Texas, is spilling his troubled guts to a New York psychiatrist. Bay Street director Kimmi Sampieri describes Ty this way: “He feels like he’s a cliche: Gay actor, 27 therapists, that kind of thing. And from the South.”

That last phase is the key: Ty’s quandary is whether he should return to Winters to attend the funeral of his grandmother, Peggy, who died under less–than–Christian circumstances.

As it happens, everyone in the family is nuts.

“Ty doesn’t want to go back, because he’s able to go places and be who he wants to be,” Sampieri explains. “Versus, when he’s at home he can’t be that person. He has to go back to being who they expect him to be. That’s why he doesn’t know if he wants to go back for the funeral.”

The extended family includes Ty’s mother Latrelle and her bickering sisters LaVonda and  Sissy; tainted country singer Bitsy Mae; Juanita, the town drunk; and Odell, who has been scarred for life in a pig–bloating incident.

Then there’s Brother Boy, a transvestite who’s been institutionalized by his family, and Eve “Dr. Evil” Bolinger, who wishes to “de–homosexualize” him so she can get famous and make a triumphant appearance on Oprah.

Shores is perhaps best known for Daddy’s Dyin’ – Who’s Got the Will?, another stage comedy about a Texas family afflicted with arrested development.

“His characters are very much over the top,” Sampieri says. “But I have to say that people identify with the characters that they’re playing, on some level. There’s a first–timer in my cast, she’s never acted before, and she is one hundred percent able to understand what it’s like to be the only – what she calls – sane person in her family.

“We all have those people in our family – you don’t know them, so you don’t understand them. Like an uncle you’ve never met because he’s the black sheep of the family. And when you do meet him, you identify with him.”

The show, she adds, is “kind of like a really fantastically hilarious soap opera.”

The Saturday, April 10 performance is a benefit for Savannah Pride, which is including the show as part of its 2010 “Yellow Party” (with a pool tournament and admission to Club One’s regularly–scheduled drag shows as part of the package).

For Sampieri, Shores “holds up a pretty decent mirror to society. I’d like to say that the theme of tolerance, and especially dealing with transvestism and homosexuality, was a thing of the past. But unfortunately it’s not. There are still people who think it’s a disease, that you can cure it. And there are people within the gay community that don’t understand transvestites.”

A theatre major at Armstrong Atlantic State University, Sampieri has acted in several local productions of her all–time favorite play, The Rocky Horror Show. She also directed Rocky Horror at Bay Street in 2009.

She says she thinks Savannah is ready for Sordid Lives.

“When I talk to people at church about this, and I mention Del Shores, they immediately know his other work,” she says. “They immediately identify how funny he is. And I’m hoping that this is a project that will possibly reach out to people who know Sordid Lives itself, which has its own following.”

Translation: It’s not just for the gay community. “Because it’s a funny show about the South, and how funny the South can be, I do think that the community – as a whole – will enjoy it.”

Sordid Lives

Where: Bay Street Theatre at Club One, 1 Jefferson St.

When: At 8 p.m. April 8–10 and 14–17, 6 p.m. April 11 and 18

Tickets: $15 ($20 table seats available)

Savannah Pride Yellow Party: Saturday, April 10

Phone: (912) 232–0200

Online: www.clubone–online.com


About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.
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