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"Dearly Departed" Brings Southern Gothic Humor to The Footlight Club

The community theatre’s accomplished production is a not-to-be-missed exploration of NASCAR-generation Southern grotesquery.

Premiering last night, “” is billed by as a “drop dead funny play.”  There are certainly plenty of hearty laughs in David Bottrell’s and Jessie Jones’ drama, set in the backwoods of the American South.  But most of the characters are actually as tragic as they are comic.  Exactly how funny you will find it may depend on your mood, the weather, or what you had for dinner.

The surprising and hilarious opening scene sets the stage for much of the action that follows.  Raynelle Turpin (Barbara Dempsey-West), a simple Christian woman, recites an unending monologue, oblivious to the fact that her mute husband is suffering from a stroke.  After Bud (David Lutheran) suddenly falls dead to the floor, the rest of the problematic Turpin clan prepare for his funeral.

Brothers Ray-Bud (David Lutheran) and Junior (Scot Colford) have a family feud over the funeral arrangements, debating both the costs and the style of their deceased father’s coffin and gravestone.  The argument over whether to choose “The Diplomat” or “Gentleman Farmer” casket is funny in a macabre and pathetic way.  Likewise, the widow Raynelle wants the words “Mean and Surly” inscribed on the ornery Bud’s tombstone while Ray-Bud elects for the more ameliorative phrase “Rest in Peace.”  At a cost of $2 per letter, the cost-cutting decision is descriptive of their poverty, both material and otherwise.

The Turpin brothers’ wives, Lucille (Gillian Mackay–Smith) and Suzanne (Lindsay Allyn Cox-Hicks) are a dramatic study in contrasts.  Ray-Bud’s spouse, Lucille, is a sympathetic caretaker who cannot carry a baby full-term.  Junior’s partner, Suzanne, is a screaming shrew who belittles her husband for his failed business attempt at a parking lot cleaning service, and his infidelity in a K-Mart parking lot.

Bud’s sister Marguerite (Mary O'Donnell) is a big –haired, Bible quoting fundamentalist who dedicates herself to supplying the women of Africa with brassieres.  En route to the funeral, she and irreverent, loser son Royce (Kaedon Gray), whose life plans are to move from unemployment to welfare, have a very funny scene.  Stalled on the highway, Marguerite and Royce do battle with the car radio dial, alternating between the songs “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Highway to Hell.” 

There’s dark humor later at the wake and funeral, Even rednecks have a sense of propriety that is violated when someone brings a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to the family’s potluck.  After eating at a Mexican restaurant, the Reverend Hooker (Brad Reed) is unable to deliver his eulogy due to a case of diarrhea.   In the end, the sad but sympathetic characters are able to dig themselves out of the hole that they're in.

Directed by Kristin Hughes and produced by Kristin MacDougall, “” is impeccably and professionally produced.  The cast convincingly mastered speaking with Southern drawls, and their acting is uniformly outstanding.  The sets, costumes, lighting, wigs, and other details superbly capture the down and out details of trailer trash life.  Whether the play makes you laugh, cry, or a little of both, , which has a very short run at , is a not to be missed exploration of NASCAR-generation Southern grotesquery.

(617-524-3200) is located at 7 Eliot Street.  “” opened last night.  There are additional performances on June 4, June 10, and June 11.  Tickets are $16-$21. 

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