Reinforced with Lug Nuts: SORDID LIVES (Portland, OR)

Nikolas Hoback as Ty, Signe Larsen as Latrelle, Landy Hite as Sissy, Jennifer Lanier as Lavonda and Amanda Richards as Bitsy; Image from the OUTwright Theatre Festival Facebook page.

Presented by Fuse Theatre Ensemble and Funhouse Lounge
Part of the 2017 OUTwright Theatre Festival
Written by Del Shores
Directed and designed by Rusty Tennant

May 19 – June 11, 2017
Funhouse Lounge
Portland, Oregon
Fuse Theatre on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

A very special thank you to Fuse Theatre and Funhouse Lounge for allowing me to review their excellent production!

(Portland, OR)  Our existence is our resistance. One basic way we as minority community members can fight back against the current bullshit political crisis is by refusing to be silent or ignored. Theatre makers, we can make as much noisy, politically incorrect and socially unacceptable art. As the TCG 2017 Conference asked how we go about celebrating equity, diversity and inclusivity, I gathered by people. We ran across the bridge to Fuse Theatre’s production of Sordid Lives.

Shores’ Sordid Lives is a semi-autobiographical comedy about the frazzled community in late 1990’s Winters, TX. It’s a darn hot summer for a funeral. Peggy hit her head on the motel sink after a night of passion with someone else’s husband. Sissy (Landy Hite), Noleta (Sara Nightingale), and LaVonda (Jennifer Lanier) straighten up the Peggy’s affairs with violence and passive aggression. Ty (Nikolas Hoback) explains his coming out through monologues to his therapist. Brother Boy (Michael J. Teufel) breaks out of his mental institution in heels and a wig. Latrelle (Signe Larsen) copes with truths she’s not ready for. Shores’ play is one psychic away from a southern soap opera extravaganza.

This play would suit Boston audiences very well. Sordid Lives’ very real biases against anyone who isn’t straight, cis, white, and status quo delivered by Shores’ have resonated across the decades. The pill-popping, gun-toting sisters will remind many of their own, possibly estranged family members.

The wig design by Allen Fertuna and Kate Mura makes a lasting impression on the audience. They clearly and effectively tell us that these women have been to Hell and back. Texas heat is kind to no one. It’s especially unkind to the closed-minded.

The actors in this production bicker with the familiarity of sisters and brothers. Their trust in the ensemble is evident in their risk taking and honest portrayals.

Amanda Richards as country chanteuse Bitsy greets us like a dirty Dolly Parton from the school of Joan Jett.

Hoback and Teufel give us the necessary perspective. They’ve experienced bigotry and lived to tell us about it.

Hites’ character commitment is laudable. She made Sissy not only hilarious but the most sympathetic female character on stage.

Sensitive viewers should be warned that there are two scenes that may be triggering. The first is a vengeance scene involving guns and stripping in the first act. During the Portland production, the energy dropped during the shuffling behind a bar. This made transitions rough but not unenjoyable. The second is an attempted rape scene in the second act. Both are intended to be funny and “punch up,” not down. They are necessary to the plot but can cause great discomfort. Viewers should be uncomfortable watching them.

The script calls for characters to use the word, “transvestite.” An actor identifies as a transvestite. As it was premiered in 1996, Sordid Lives uses this word with historical context as both a slur and an identifier. That we question its usage is important but that should not prevent theatres from performing the play as Del Shores intended.

Portland, OR is celebrating Pride next weekend but Oregon locals should observe their privilege to see Fuse Theatre’s Sordid Lives, a queer theatre classic, while they still can. Boston audiences could prepare for a revamp of this funny, campy, female actress-heavy play while we can. Invite the sitting President. Invite your politicians. Tell the opposition that we will not be quiet; we will not back down. We will exist whether they want to see us or not.  

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