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SORDID LIVES, laugh filled farce at convergence continuum

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Its Winters, Texas, July 24 and 25, 1998.  Yes, Texas, the place of the weird and the weirder, where fundamentalism, hidden homosexuality, rampant twangs, death while having sex and tripping over a pair of wooden legs (of a person, not a table), two gun toting women who think they are Thelma and Louise of movie fame, a bar full of men forced to strip to their underwear, an institutionalized transvestite who is the subject of a psychologist’s sexual experiments, a country western bar singer, a body being buried in the hot summer clothed in a mink stole, a minister who comes on to the grandson of the deceased during a eulogy at the funeral service, and a feud between siblings.

Sound preposterous?  It’s just another production at convergence-continuum, lovingly known as con-con by its avid cult of followers.  Con-con, who is proud to challenge its potential audiences with the artistic mission of “presenting theatre that expands the imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space, and performance that challenges conventional notions of what theatre is.”

And, believe me, artistic director Clyde Simon has achieved his goal of crossing that threshold with SORDID LIVES, one of the most bizarre and funniest plays you ever will see.

In brief, the story line centers on a small Texas town gossiping about the accidental death of an elderly family matriarch during a clandestine meeting in a seedy motel room with a married neighbor, and the goings on while the family copes with what can and does become an embarrassing yet illuminating funeral.

The play itself has its own unusual story.  The script, written by Del Shores, was first staged in 1996, won 14 Los Angeles Drama League awards, was made into a 2000 film which opened to mixed reviews, but became a cult film among LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) audiences, particularly in the south.  A 2008 television series, starring Rue McClanahan and Peggy Ingram, lasted one season.

Simon has crafted a production that is long on farce and longer on laughs.

Jonathan Wilhelm goes properly over the top as Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram, a gay transvestite who has been institutionalized by his “mamma” because he is an embarrassment to the family.  At the institution he is treated by an equally bizarre Dr. Eve Bolinger (Liz Conway) who has developed a “system” to overcome homosexuality based on guided masturbation.  The office scene between Wilhelm and Conway is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen on stage.  The two let loose every farcical device to achieve hysterical mayhem.

Lisa Wiley, the bar singer Bitsy Mae Harling, has a nice singing voice and informs us that “existence is a bitch,”resulting in sordid lives” (gee, wonder where the play’s title comes from?).

Zac Hudak (Ty Williamson), he of doe eyes caught in the headlights and fluttering hands, who has gone from closeted town homosexual to closeted well-known soap opera star, is character right, even when flirting with the minister during his grandmother’s funeral.

Elaine Feagler (Noletta Nethercott) is delightful as the woman whose legless husband was in the motel room with Mamma.  She is matched by Amy Bistok-Bunce as LaVonda Dupree, Mama’s slutty short-shorts-wearing daughter.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith is perfectly uptight as the righteous Latrelle Williamson, trying to mold the world into her narrow view.  Marcia Mandell as the alcoholic ditzy Juanita, is riotous.  The rest of the cast, Lauri Hammer, Tyson Douglas Rand, Wes Shofner, and Clint Elaston all, to a degree, are on target.

Capsule Judgement: The con-con production of SORDID LIVES is a hoot.  Simon has pulled out all the farcical stops.  His cast has fun, the audience has even more  fun.  If you want an evening of outlandish theatre, this is it!

SORDID LIVES runs through April 20 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.   Since the theatre only has 40 seats, if you want to see this production, call now!  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.