Dearly Departed is DOA

Something hilarious happens within the first few minutes of Chyro Arts' Dearly Departed: A woman, played by Jacqueline Gaston, reads a wickedly amusing letter to her husband, who suddenly falls over in a dead heap just after she finishes. It's a moment that's shocking and witty and holds a good deal of promise that what's about to follow will be comedic and inspiring and entertaining.

It's a promise that's never delivered on. This amusing bit remains, over the course of the next two hours, as the single noteworthy moment in a very long, profoundly uneventful comedy that's often overplayed and rarely very funny. Playwrights David Bottrell and Jessie Jones have strung together a repetitive series of scenes that mock Southerners, all of whom, one would guess from this silly mess, are boneheaded losers who live in trailer parks and drink too much moonshine. Dearly Departed is one long hillbilly joke wrapped around a short story about an old guy who dies and the underprivileged, under-educated family who come home to bury him. One of the sons is cheating on his wife, who's a harridan; another is a good ol' boy whose sister is an obese dimwit; the women are either tarty or Christ-obsessed or former Yam Queens with back-combed hairdos. These embarrassing archetypes (most of whom have the word "Bud" somewhere in their names) tromp around doing every hackneyed bit of backwoods business you'd expect, none of which endears them to their audience.

Something might have been made of this poached premise, but — despite some manful work on the part of Gaston and a couple of her castmates — the production is a wash, thanks to bloated overacting by most of the rest of the players. Director Michael Peck, whose notes in the playbill suggest he knows something about hicks and family dynamics, appears to have directed his cast to overplay every moment. The result is a stage overrun with characters straight out of a silly sitcom; people who mumble stupidities, then make goofy faces to signal to us that what they've just said is funny. All this mugging makes an already stale premise seem overripe, and rips off both what's good about the writing and what the actors might have made of it.


Dearly Departed continues through September 6. Call 480-258-2329.
Chyro Arts, 1330 North Scottsdale Road

Some of the cast manages to overcome all this nonsense. Patty Stephens gives the most consistent (and most consistently amusing) performance as a Bible-thumping visiting aunt, and her scenes with young Steve Erek, who joyfully plays her back-talking, miscreant son, illuminate this comedy's more dreary corners. As the family matriarch, Gaston brings some subtlety to a sketchy role, although I'm sad to say that she fluffed so many of her lines the night I saw the show that I left feeling I'd missed something. I'm still trying to figure out what her curtain speech to her dead husband was supposed to be about. Certainly the authors, after laboring so endlessly to insult so many Southerners, couldn't have meant for the lead character to mumble something about "that other thing," then wander offstage.

Hillbillies are apparently the last remaining minority that one can still string up with trite clichés, but plays like Dearly Departed will undoubtedly put an end to that sort of inequity. Meanwhile, there's no resting in peace for Southerners or anyone who thinks of them as something other than brain-dead.

My Voice Nation Help
Karen Burrington
Karen Burrington

You are completely wrong in your article and I have to strongly disagree. This was the second show I have seen at this theater and LOVED IT! I am not a fancy critic but I can see talent in a room! From the Bible-thumping aunt and her back talking son to good ol' Ray-Bud with his quirky, food loving sister�..everyone was unique and hilarious! This simple- southern family struggles through death and drama but wraps their story into a comedic performance.

Some of the actors I recognized from another performance I viewed at the Chyro Theater. I was pleasantly surprised to see them again in completely different roles from before, and just as captivating.

You talk more about what you didn�t like in the storyline instead of the acting that tool place. Did you not know what the play was about before you purchased the ticket?

I think you need to relax a bit, and then you might be able to enjoy the talent in front of you! And while your work on that, I will look forward to future performances at this theater and hope they welcome back the same cast!

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

Dear Mr. Pela,

Perhaps it WAS "meant for the lead character to mumble something about 'that other thing' then wander offstage". Perhaps it was an existentialist work and the redneck stereotypes were post-modern irony. Was there a mysterious, cigarette smoking figure -- other than the stagehand -- silently watching the action from the wings? Did a sad clown-face stare through a backstage prop-window at random moments, only to be ignored by all the characters?

Frankly, I wonder why someone hasn't written a play by now in which the characters mumble unintelligibly. Perhaps now and again they might be permitted to speak clearly, only when they do they say something like "the moon in June" (pronouncing the words mee-yoon and jee-yoon" in an odd, nasally fashion). That sounds fun, don't you think? Whole websites could be dedicated to discussing the meaning of the play.

Or perhaps a play whose dialogue is drowned out by the sound of buzzing cicadas, except for random snippets here and there -- the exact points in the play where the cicadas suspend their droning, being varied randomly each night. I'd pay to see that, wouldn't you?

I myself am an aspiring playwright. The first of my finished works is a version of Sartre's "No Exit" featuring the characters of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. (In a world of ideal casting, these would be played by Judy Tenuta and the late William Demarest, each of them wearing a lush, black handlebar mustache.)

The second idea is more commercial, intending to appeal to the modern taste for derivative productions. The general trend has been toward remakes of cheesy 60s sit-coms and feature-film versions of comic-book characters; but now, I feel, the time has come to enter the exciting world of breakfast cereal commercials. The transition will be a challenging one, to be sure, but surely full of interest.

Specifically, I have in mind a one-man autobiographical monologue along the lines of Hal Holbrook, about the life of Count Chocula. He could speak, frankly and cynically, about the commercial biz, and about his unrequited true-love of musical-comedy theater.

Do you suppose you could put me in contact with some "angels" willing to finance these ideas?


E. Pulsifer

Lance Sackless
Lance Sackless

Once again good ol RP misses the point. By spoting such venomous rhetoric on the fact that it's a *shudder* "Stereotype" it clearly points that no matter what the actors do on stage, the play sucks, right?

I think there's a troupe in Prescott doing Of Mice and Men if you want a serious southern play.

Open your mind and learn to laugh