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A Laff Riot

By Robert W. McDowell


Some of the performances in The Towne Players of Garner's energetic encore production of Dearly Departed, the company's signature piece, may lack polish. But the large cast's less-experienced members more than make up for it with the gusto with which they attach their roles. In any case, the overall result is what Variety used to call a "laff riot."

David Botrell and Jesse Jones' unconventional comedy, presented in the Garner Historic Auditorium and cleverly orchestrated by director Beth Honeycutt, is a zany down-home comedy set in a backwoods Baptist community. Dearly Departed takes a long and irreverent look at a colorful, eccentric and totally dysfunctional Southern family whose proudly unchurched and hard-living patriarch, "Daddy Bud" Turpin (played by a succession of Triangle personalities) drops dead just after his long-suffering wife, Raynelle (Pat Ayscue), reads him a scorching co-to-Jesus-or-else letter from his sister, Marguerite (Frances Stanley), the family religious fanatic.

At the height of her diatribe, Marguerite wonders if they have TVs in hell, so that Daddy Bud can continue to watch those pro-wrestling programs that he prefers to Sunday services. The poor guy has only moments before he finds out. (My guess is that the "basic serve" that Time Warner Cable would offer in hell would be superior to what we get around here.)

Frances Stanley's foghorn fundamentalist is a scream, especially when she is attaching her lazy, shiftless son Royce (Scott Honeycutt), who prefers heavy metal music T-shirts to Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Honeycutt is hilarious as the soft-spoken but provocative Royce, who knows exactly how to push all his overwrought mama's buttons.

Pat Ayscue is a bit stiff as the not-so-grieving widow of Daddy Bud. (She wants to have "Mean and Surly" carved on his headstone.) But Ayscue manages to deliver most of her punch lines right on time.

Tim Upchurch, who plays Daddy Bud's high-strung oldest son, Ray-Bud, gives a rib-tickling performance; roly-poly Rusty Sutton is a stitch as ne'er-do-well younger brother, Junior; and Chris Monette (in drag) gave a virtually mute, but crowd-pleasing performance as their big-boned sister, Delightful.

Meg Dietrich was a bit bland as Ray-Bud's miscarriage-prone wife, Lucille; but Sharon Pearce was a real scene-stealer with her hilarious histrionics as Suzanne, Junior's hopelessly self-centered shrew of a wife who is horrified to find another woman'' earring in their car's backseat.

Rosa Williams and Holmes Morrison steal the show with their highly amusing characterizations of an elderly couple named Veda and Norval. Norval is incoherent due to age, illness, and the steady diet of pills that motor mouth Veda feeds him. But Norval's struggles to communicate are eloquent.

Don Howard is funny as poor, diarrhea-plagued Rev. Hooker, who tries his best to find something good to say about Daddy Bud; and Jeff Nugent contributes an amusing cameo as Ray-Bud's hard drinking good buddy, Clyde.

Lisa Burger, Sheila Outhwaite, Stephanie Veren, Gayle Robinshon, Jonathan Robbins, Kerry Bannen, Arlie Honeycutt, and Tom Long complete the cast.

Despite some rough spots and a few unpolished performances, Dearly Departed clearly scored a major hit with most Friday-night patrons. This side splitting comedy, which could have been set in any of the small towns of the Triangle, deserves to play to packed houses for the rest of its all-too-short run.

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