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Review: 'Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?' at Theatre/Theater

January 15, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Ttdadgrn2_l03_2Theatre/Theater has moved several times since it first opened in Hollywood almost 30 years ago, yet under the tenacious tutelage of founders Jeff Murray and Nicolette Chaffey, it remains a consistent producing entity in an era when start-up theaters flare and fade like fool’s fire in the swampland.

The theater’s 1987 production of Del Shores’ “Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?” played for two years to turn-away crowds and was subsequently made into a film.  Now, the company turns back the clock in a remounting of Shores’ regional comedy.  The production, which features two separate casts, is a welcome reprise that reaffirms both Shores’ comic talents and Theatre/Theater’s durable creativity.

The play’s current incarnation has a new wrinkle.  Shores’ white-trashy characters, the bickering Turnover clan of Texas, are now African American.  With the exception of a few awkward references, the transition works like a charm.

The premise is simple.  When Daddy Buford (Alex Morris) suffers a series of strokes, his offspring gather for the deathwatch. The family is evenly divided along the pure-hearted and the greedy. Among the former are chief caregiver Sara Lee (Ellana Barksdale) and her “Bible-thumping” sister Lurleen (Nancy Renee), both on the side of the angels.  Not so scheming sexpot Evalita (Leslie LaRaine) and boorish only son Orville (Lee Stansberry) are solely interested in locating Daddy’s missing will.

Rounding out the funereal festivities are feisty family matriarch Mama Wheelis (hilarious Zoe Cotton); Orville’s abused wife Marlene (Pam Trotter), a worm who is about to turn; and Evalita’s latest boy-toy Harmony (Brandon Breault), a pot-addled “hippie” with a surprisingly sensible streak.

Murray, who co-produced the original production, takes the reins as director here, with riotous results.  A warning:  Don’t expect subtlety in this staging.  The exuberant performers devour Shores’ material and chew the scenery for dessert. 

Shores has gone on to write other hits, including the terrific “Sordid Lives,” based on his play, a Logo series that features some of the best character acting to be found on the small screen. However, this vibrant seminal work started it all and remains a gold-plated hoot, guaranteed to deliver a full quotient of belly laughs.

--F. Kathleen Foley

“Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?” Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Jan. 24.  Then Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Los Angeles, Jan. 31-Feb. 21. $20-$25.  (323) 954-9795.  Running time:  2 hours, 35 minutes.

Credit: R.S. Bailey