Steel Magnolias meets La Cage aux Folles in Del Shores’s 1996 comedy, following a Texas family as it deals with the death of its matriarch, Peggy, and the gay relatives who show up for her funeral. Peggy’s drag-queen son and closeted gay grandson are the focal points of the campy Sordid Lives, which was adapted into a 2000 film starring Delta Burke and Olivia Newton-John and a 2008 television series on Logo. It’s an irreverent look at queer fear in the South, but Wayne Shaw’s production falls apart as the overstuffed script adds new plot elements.
The opening scenes are limited to Peggy’s sister (Michelle McKenzie-Voight) chatting with Noleta (Kalina McCreery), whose husband was having an affair with the deceased, and Peggy’s two daughters: the intensely bigoted Latrelle (a gut-busting Caitlin Jackson) and crass LaVonda (Suzanne Bracken). In these early scenes, the performances are as outrageous as the hair and makeup; these are women who have no problem trading tuna casseroles for Valium. But as new characters are introduced, the energy dissipates, particularly during the passionless bar shoot-out at the end of Act I. The play doesn’t get to the Tammy Wynette–impersonating Earl (Kirk Jackson) until the second act, and by then the production has lost most of its momentum.
As Latrelle’s gay son Ty, J. Keegan Siebken grounds the wacky play with the touching monologues he delivers to his unseen therapist. The relationship between Latrelle and her son forms the heart of the show; the further the script moves from those characters, the less engaging it becomes.
Editor's note: As originally published, our review implied that an actor's costume contained padding. As the actor has noted in the comments below, it does not. We deeply regret the error.