Coming-out comedy

Sordid Lives
Through June 20 at Theatre Downtown
; 2113 N. Orange Ave.
; $18; 407-841-0083

April is the cruelest month (according to T.S. Eliot), and May is the moistest, but June is Orlando's gayest month. This year Theatre Downtown is participating in the rainbow parade by presenting Sordid Lives, playwright Del Shores' cult comedy (later turned Logo TV series).

Sissy Hickey (Pam Baumann) picked the wrong week to quit nicotine. Her sexagenarian sibling Peggy has just set their small town of Winters, Texas, afire with scandal by accidentally expiring while abetting adultery in a no-tell motel with G.W. Nethercott (James Zelley), alcoholic double amputee and awful husband to Sissy's friend Noleta (Peri Hope Goldberg). Sissy snaps her wrist with a stop-smoking rubber bracelet and watches her middle-aged nieces – tightass Latrelle (Katrina Tharin) and free spirit La Vonda (Marion Marsh) – war over their momma's mink stole.

Meanwhile, G.W. boozes and blubbers in the honky-tonk bar owned by his buddy Wardell "Bubba" Owens (Dean Walkuski) with Bubba's dim-bulb brother Odell (Adam Shorts-Boarman) and a boll weevil–obsessed barfly (Caroline Ross). Before Act 1 ends, the plot explodes into a psychosexual Thelma and Louise homage, with Noleta and La Vonda expressing their emotions through firearms.

The subsequent Sturm und Drang centers on the family's pair of prodigal sons, and whether they'll return for the funeral. Earl "Brother Boy" Ingram (Wyatt Glover) has been incarcerated in a state mental asylum for 20-plus years, where his cokehead cougar counselor (Monica Travers) tries to cure his homosexuality and Tammy Wynette–worshiping transvestitism through masochistic "masturbation therapy." And Latrelle's actor son, Ty (David P. Landry Jr.), already an outcast after his unclothed onstage antics, is anxious about coming home from NYC and coming out to his mom.

Shores' darkly comic script features an uneven mix of sitcom slapstick, broad Southern stereotypes and serious issues, but under the direction of Fran and Frank Hilgenberg, any potential for offense is offset by buoyant comic timing. There are gems in the larger-than-life cast: Travers earns a doctorate in scenery-devouring as Hippocratic hypocrite Dr. Eve, and Zelley and Glover find fine moments of humanity amidst the hysteria. The decade that's elapsed since the play's 1998 setting has made the naked homophobia it ridicules seem delightfully dated. With the likes of Ted Olsen, Dick Cheney and Iowa leading the way on gay marriage, maybe members of the family (and friends thereof) deserve a good laugh.

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