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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Sordid Lives
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of Private Lives and August: Osage County and Richard's reviews of Monsoon Wedding

The Cast
Photo by Lois Tema
New Conservatory Center is presenting a wild and woolly production of Del Shores' Sordid Lives. It's billed as a black comedy about white trash, and it's an ingenious, campy and bawdy tale about Del Shores growing up gay in conservative rural Texas.

Sordid Lives premiered in Los Angeles in 1996 where it won 14 Drama-Logue Awards. In 2000, it was made into an independent film starring Leslie Jordan and Olivia Newton-John, and became a television series in 2008 for one season.

The plot follows members of three generations of a dysfunctional family who gather after their elderly matriarch died during a rendezvous in a shabby motel room with much younger, much married neighbor. Family skeletons comes flying out of closet, like affairs, cross-dressing, bigotry, guilt and homosexuality.

We meet the whole weird family, including the dead matriarch Peggy's chain-smoking sister Sissy (Michaela Greeley); her wild sisters, immensely different Lavonda (Catherine Luedtke) and Latrelle (Marie O'Donnell); grandson Ty (Luke Brady), who is a gay actor on the New York stage; and son Earl Ingram (Scott Cox), who was institutionalized more than 20 years earlier because he was a gay cross-dresser, and who imitates Tammy Wynette for fellow patients.

Dennis Lickteig has assembled a wonderful cast of actors to camp up the proceedings, including Luke Brady as Ty, the most "normal" in the group, although he is seen in therapy sessions on the right side of stage. He will face the family at the funeral because he has finally come out of the closet. Catherine Luedtke plays wild-living Lavonda, giving a vivacious performance, and Marie O'Donnell is excellent as Latrelle. Michaela Greeley, with a wonderful Texas accent, gives an impressive performance as Sissy. Nathan Tylutki as Odell Owens is a hoot when he tells "pig" stories, and Gary M. Giurbino gives a perfect performance as G.W. Nethercott, especially in the second scene when he "humiliates" himself.

And there is Scott Cox who is side splitting as Earl. He is absolutely fabulous as the "drama queen" with a Tammy Wynette voice, and dressed as Carmen from the opera in the funeral scene. Amy Meyers pops in and out to set up scenes as Bitsy Mae Harling, singing songs Texas style with a reverberating voice. Robin Gabrielli, Shannon Veon Kase, and Melissa O'Keefe give colorful performances. All have over the over the top Texas enunciations, thanks to dialect coach Patricia Reynoso.

Direction by Dennis Lickteig adds grounded realism to the extreme nature of the characters. Wes Crain's costumes are smart, especially the Spanish costume worn by Earl at the end of the play. The sets by Kuo-Hao La are excellent, especially for the funeral scene.

Bottom Line: Hilarious but achingly real. It reminded me of growing in western Ohio—without the Texas accent.

<>Sordid Lives runs through June 24, 2017, at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness off Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-861-8972 or at Coming up next is the world premiere of JC Lee's Warplay, running June 2 through July 2.

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