‘Drop-Dead’ Funny Comedy Comes to Sunrise
Coming on the heels of its hugely successful production of “Oklahoma!” last month, Moore OnStage is presenting a comedy called “hilarious” and “drop dead funny” by critics.
The show, being performed at the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines from Wednesday, March 17, through Sunday, March 21, is “Dearly Departed,” and it takes a look at how an extended family living in a small town in the Bible Belt copes with the death of its patriarch.
“It is a very human play,” says Don Bridge, director of the Moore OnStage production. “Although it is set in the rural South, it is about a family like every family anywhere, with its rivalries, foibles and problems. It is not only a funny play, but is also very real and touching in certain scenes.
“I have actually told the actors to play it fairly straight. The comedy is all there in the script, and the straighter they play their parts, the funnier it is. They are all such believable characters — they are stereotypes in a way, but in another way, they have their own individuality.”
Written in 1991 by two Kentucky-born actors, David Dean Bottrell and Jessie Jones, it was first produced at Connecticut’s Long Wharf Theatre, and received critical acclaim in its off-Broadway opening. It was then produced in Los Angeles, where it had an award-winning run, and subsequently has been presented in hundreds of regional theaters in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Compared to “Steel Magnolias,” with a like cast of colorful and dysfunctional Southern eccentrics, “Dearly Departed” deals with the struggle to get the patriarch of the clan buried, and proves that living and dying are not always tidy, and can have a dose of humor mixed into the process.
The deceased was not exactly a God-fearing man, or even a likable one, and his family has a variety of unexpected responses to his passing. The enjoyment of “Dearly Departed” lies in its bold characters and their reactions to a serious situation.
No stranger to local theater audiences, Don Bridge has acted and directed shows on Sandhills stages in a wide variety of productions. Most recently, he was in “Oklahoma!”, “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Greater Tuna,” which he co-directed with his wife, Lisa. Other credits include “The Buddy Holly Story,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Big River,” “Sylvia” and “Harvey,” plus another co-directing stint for “Tintypes.”
Among the cast in this production are several actors who have been in other Moore OnStage offerings since its inception in 2005. Loretta Aldridge returns to the local stage after a five-year hiatus to play Marguerite, the sister of the deceased. She was last seen in “Jake’s Women,” and previously longtime local theater audiences will remember her work in “The Glass Menagerie.”
Aldridge is originally from Valdese, a small village in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“In this part, I get to use my ‘hillbilly’ accent,” she says with a smile. “So I guess you can say that I bring a lot of authenticity to the role. Actually, Marguerite is a dominant woman, righteous and judgmental, and she reminds me somewhat of my mother.”
OvaJean Siemens also can relate to her part as Raynelle, the widow of the deceased. She grew up in a small town in Oklahoma.
“I find a lot of similarities in the way of life between home and the South,” she says. “I can identify with the folks in the play.”
This is her second appearance with Moore OnStage, having recently performed in the ensemble of “Oklahoma!” Siemens was active in community theater in her native state, and also in Virginia, before moving to the Sandhills.
The adult sons of the “dearly departed” are played by Tom Dalton and Steve Moore. Kimberly Corrigan is cast in the role of the daughter in the family, a dumpy woman who doggedly eats her way through scene after scene, as she uses a reliance on junk food — corn dogs, potato chips and pork rinds — to deal with her emotions. This is a definite switch for Corrigan, who has played the title role in “Sylvia,” an ingenue in “Moon Over Buffalo” and a femme fatale in “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.
Steve Moore is a newcomer to Moore OnStage. A full-time actor from Greensboro, where he has been seen at Triad Stage, the Broach Theater and The Barn Dinner Theater, Moore has also been on stage at the Temple Theatre in Sanford in recent productions. In “Dearly Departed,” he plays Junior, in constant conflict with his brother, who belittles him for being a loser. He has in fact been the victim of several get-rich-quick schemes.
Tom Dalton is the solvent brother who is worried about being stuck with having to pay for all the funeral expenses. He is dysfunctional in his own way due to a fondness for the bottle.
The director of education at Temple Theatre in Sanford, Dalton is an accomplished actor as well, having appeared in both comedies and dramas, such as in Moore OnStage’s production of “Greater Tuna,” portraying Thomas Wolfe in an original work commissioned for the Thomas Wolfe Festival in Asheville and in “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Temple.
Shannon Dalton, his real spouse of 10 years, was also his onstage wife in Temple’s “Diary of Anne Frank” and local audiences applauded her as Laverne Andrews in “Sisters of Swing.” She describes her present role as a woman who is the essential Southern hostess, adept at preparing meals or treats and always ready to entertain guests.
“On the surface she keeps up a good appearance, but underneath she is very fragile,” she says.
Other familiar female faces in the cast include Ginny Buckner from “Master Class,” who plays Junior’s wife, and Karen Steelman, whose last local appearance was in “Little Shop of Horrors” three years ago, and who also had a multi-week run as Patsy Cline at Greensboro’s Barn Dinner Theatre.
Randy Rime, an experienced local actor, who has played a assortment of parts beginning with Jake in “Jake’s Women” and most recently as Scrooge in Temple Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” energetically takes on three different roles in “Dearly Departed.”
The unemployed deadbeat son of Marguerite, sister of the deceased, is played by Sean Smith, who did the male lead in “A Streetcar Named Desire” several years ago in a local production, and also appeared in Sandbox Players’ “Moon Over Buffalo.”
Five performances of “Dearly Departed” will be presented at the Sunrise Theater at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday.
Tickets are $20 and may be reserved with a Visa card or a Mastercard, by calling (910) 692-7118. A special feature of a two-for-one ticket price is offered for one night only on Wednesday, March 17.
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at email@example.com.
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