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Pygmalion’s Production of Sordid Lives: ‘Bless Her Heart’

All families have a strange dynamic. Unless you’re from a Mormon upbringing, you may most likely agree. But there is nothing stranger … or more dysfunctional … than a Texan family. I can attest to this because I’m Texan – proud of it – but also in need of thousands of dollars in therapy because of it.

Pygmalion Theatre Company has taken one such family created by famed gay writer/producer Del Shores, and without any doubt, adapted one of the most hilarious plays of the season. Sordid Lives is a wild, crude and arguably misanthropic comedy focusing on an unsavory “redneck” (I can say that, I’m Texan!) family’s dark secrets that come full circle with the sudden, yet embarrassing, demise of their mother.

Shores has written some of the most eclectic and unscrupulous characters, and here, director Fran Pruyn has expertly materialized them in this production. The bulk of the cast favorably portray their characters with humorous fervor and equally distasteful elegance … just as they were written.

Peggy’s accidental death in a seedy motel while in a secret tryst with a much younger man prompts her daughters Latrelle (Reb Fleming) — a keeping-up-appearances type — and Lavonda (Teresa Sanderson) — a big-haired trailer trash type — to come to near-bikini-mud-wrestling blows about the funeral. Peggy’s sister, Sissy (the darling Vicki Pugmire), ends up in the middle of the squabble, all the while struggling to quit smoking. Noleta (Tamara Howell) is the distraught family friend, whose husband G.W. (Jeffrey Owen) turns out to be the ‘much younger man’ whose discarded wooden legs inadvertently sent Peggy to the Big Cattle Ranch in the sky.

Throw in the grit mix Peggy’s transvestite son Brother Boy (Michael Canham), whose 23-year ‘dehomosexualization’ therapy with an uptight, sex-deprived therapist, Dr. Eve (Barb Gandy), has proven fruitless; the local bar owner, Wardell (Mark Fossen), who for 23 years has been the object of Brother Boy’s affection; Wardell’s pig-fearing buddy Odell (Lane Richins); the town slut Bitsy (A. Bronwen Beecher); and Juanita (scene-stealer Barbara Smith), the town drunk; and what you’ve got is a steer-wrangling, shit-kicking grand time.

Pruyn’s decision to integrate the character of Latrelle’s gay son Ty (Stein Erickson) through short monologues at the beginning of each act is the emotional breadth of the production, an endearing addition.

Set designer Brad Henrie went for kitschy and Pruyn went for fluidity. Both succeeded in their respective visions. The set is minimal and functional, with a giant cowboy boot center stage functioning as the doorway to the acting area.

Costume and hair design don’t miss any fashion faux pas: back-combed hairdos, embroidered pearl-snap Western fringe shirts, extra-mini mini skirts (panty line-exposed), bejeweled wide waist belts (the size of a wrestling trophy belt), and exposed bra straps just to name a few. Actually it’s amazing anyone was wearing a bra, seeing as how hot it is in rural Texas.

The two hours of audience hysteria relinquish the minimal negative aspects to the production, and therefore are not worth mentioning. However, there is strong language, mature sexual content and smoking on stage so there’s probably some tight wads who’ll be ultra offended … obviously they’re not from Texas.

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