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Offbeat 'Sordid Lives' at the Westchester Playhouse is warm-hearted

Kentwood Players give 'Sordid Lives' a wacky revival at Westchester Playhouse

Pity the survivors of the late Peggy Ingram, whose bizarre demise is the talk of Winters, Texas. Elder daughter Latrelle drowns her mortification by fighting wildcat sister La Vonda over burying Mama in a ratty mink stole. Sissy, Peggy’s sibling, has more nicotine withdrawal angst than sisterly grief.

Nephew Ty balks at leaving his closeted NYC actor’s existence to come to Grandma’s funeral. And then, there’s Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram, Peggy’s institutionalized gay transvestite son, bewigged, bothered and bewildered after 23 years and counting.

So goes “Sordid Lives” at the Westchester Playhouse. Del Shore’s wildly entertaining Southern Gothic comedy receives an agreeably wacky revival by the Kentwood Players.

A local smash in its 1996 premiere and a cult classic in its 2000 film version, “Lives” may miss the profound  depths of later Shores works such as “Southern Baptist Sissies.” Yet its mix of camp and sincerity gets it  guffaws, with many slaps at intolerance in Shores’ smartly updated text still relevant.

Director Kirk Larson keeps things moving on designer Ben Lupejkis’ resourceful set. Despite occasional awkward patches, his cast has the measure of the property.

As when Alison Mattiza’s tightly wound Latrelle melts down at the first chapter's climax, or Samantha Barrios’ exuberant La Vonda and Elizabeth A. Bouton’s bumptious Nola Nethercott assail the local dive à la Thelma and Louise.

Anchored by Harold Dershimer’s bathetic G.W. Nethercott, the outré tag team of Dave Parke and Eduardo Mora as the Owens brothers and an indescribable Kip Hogan as barfly Juanita Bartlett, this sequence nears John Waters territory. 

Catherine Rahm’s understated Sissy is most droll in her tacit cravings, Michael Sandidge makes Ty’s interstitial monologues an arresting counterpoint and Susan Stangl has fun with ex-convict Bitsy Mae Harling’s scene-setting songs. 

True, Greg Abbott’s soft-focus Brother Boy, a role forever associated with originator Leslie Jordan, could stand more eccentric edge opposite Cherry Norris’ brittle-randy shrink.

At times, the execution wavers between community theater and Equity waiver, though clearly professional in intent. Nonetheless, long before Eddie Ed O’Brien’s wry Rev. Barnes shows up for Peggy's eulogy, we've basically succumbed to "Lives'" warm-hearted hysteria.

“Sordid Lives,” Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., Westchester. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 16. $18-$20. (310) 645-5156 or www.kentwoodplayers.org. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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