Over the last 30 years or so, veteran playwright Del Shores has amassed fans with his delightful regional comedies (“Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will?” and “Sordid Lives”) about embattled Southern families of a flagrantly eccentric stripe.
Shores dipped into more serious dramatic territory with his 2003 play, “The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife,” a dramatic account of a battered woman’s efforts to break free from her abuser.
Shores’ latest offering, “This Side of Crazy,” now in its L.A. premiere at the Zephyr, straddles the line between the comedic and the serious — not always successfully.
The set-up is promising: Country songwriter Ditty Blaylock (Sharon Garrison), a narcissistic Christian zealot whose fitness routine consists of regularly beating the Bible, is long retired and living in rural Kentucky. Still hungry for the spotlight, Ditty faces the crowning glory of her 50 years in music: a career retrospective on Gospel Music Television.
But first, Ditty must deliver on her rash promise to bring her three bitterly estranged daughters, once the hottest ticket on the gospel-country circuit, back together for an on-air reunion. But the years have not been kind to America’s former little darlings.
Rachel (Bobbie Eakes), stuck at home with Ditty, whiles away her days filming her Christian video blog and caring for her husband, who has been comatose for almost 25 years. Atheist Bethany (Rachel Sorsa) has been stripping to make ends meet, but the bloom is off her rose and the tips are getting thin. Abigail (Dale Dickey) has been locked up in a mental hospital ever since trying to kill Rachel’s husband.
Suffice it to say, getting the trio back together is about as likely as spotting Elvis at the Walmart.
Shores, who also directs, has assembled a crack team of designers, while musical director Blake McIver draws serviceable harmonies from the cast. Eakes, Sorsa and Dickey balance subtle humor with striking authenticity, whereas Garrison is a full-blown comic diva who seems to have jobbed in from one of Shore’s more farcical early plays — a tonal irregularity.
Although Shores is a master of the offbeat who couldn’t write a boring line of dialogue if he tried, this sometimes reiterative play could stand another pass through the distilling process to lend it more focus and kick.
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