The new production at the Plaza Players Theater is “Daddy’s Dyin’ . . . Who’s Got the Will?” Subtitled “a comedy of heirs,” for those who couldn’t figure that out from the title, the play is a welcome change of pace from the troupe’s recent spate of heavily charged dramatic productions.
In spirit and delivery, Del Shores’ play is a TV sitcom in live performance. There’s little about it that won’t seem at least vaguely similar to those familiar with series including “Mama’s Family,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Designing Women” and “Golden Girls,” or the Plaza Players’ (or anybody else’s, for that matter) recent production of “Steel Magnolias.”
Other than the show’s basic plot, summed up concisely in the title, all one needs to know is the play takes place in Texas, in the more or less present. From that, you need no help in extrapolating the cast of characters (Daddy and the extended family) and their individual traits: nobody’s particularly bright, son Orville is overweight, at least one character dresses tastelessly and there’s some singing.
Stereotypical and trite though many elements of Shores’ play might be, the Plaza Players’ production is stronger and more consistent than most of the other shows being staged around Ventura County. Put your mind in “idle” for a couple of hours and you’ll likely have a fine time--even if you are too embarrassed to tell the folks at work where you were the night before.
Credit can be spread among director John Michael Duggan and the cast. The eight players are an ensemble in the best sense: They look, feel and sound as if they belong together, with no overwhelming star turns and nobody pulling less than his or her load. (The worst sense of the word ensemble is when it is used to describe film or TV casts where nobody in the audience has heard of any of the participants).
They play the stereotypical characters better perhaps than the roles deserve: The accents are passable Texan when warranted, everybody looks right (Alan Price is splendid as oily brother Orville) and the gaudy wardrobe worn by aspiring singer Evalita (played by Barbara James) is a wonder.
It’s also a credit to the acting and direction that a couple of the characters show real heart: Buford (Daddy) Turnover (Irv Citron), victim of a progressive stroke, rises above caricature, as do hippie musician Harmony Rhodes (David Wagar) and Orville’s put-upon wife, Marlene (Cindy Fullerton).
Also turning in fine performances are Mary Super and Denise Leahy as practical Sara Lee and pious Lurlene, and Jean Nussman, whose feisty Mama draws strongly from Estelle Getty in “Golden Girls” but is also reminiscent of Vicki Lawrence in “Mama’s Family,” Irene Ryan’s Granny in “The Beverly Hillbillies” and Al Capp’s comic strip character Mammy Yokum--not to mention Ma Kettle and a whole passel of fictional rural matriarch, right down to Miss Ellie Ewing.
* WHERE AND WHEN: “Daddy’s Dyin’ . . . Who’s Got the Will?” plays Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. through September. Admission is $6 on Wednesday, $7.50 on Friday and $8.50 on Saturday. The Plaza Players Theater is in the Old Town Livery courtyard, 34 N. Palm St. in downtown Ventura. For further information or reservations, call (805) 643-9460 or (805) 653-2378.