For the last several years, Tybee Arts Association Performance Society directors and Kim Trammell have kept the laughter coming.
At first, it was familiar, crowd-pleasing comedies like Nunsense, The Odd Couple and Steel Magnolias. Buoyed by the unwavering support of their small seaside community, the co-directors stuck a toe into more challenging waters with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit last fall. The supernatural subject matter and lightning-fast wit went over with great success.
Now DeRossett and Trammel are jumping feet first into an even wilder current with Del Shores’ 1996 play Sordid Lives, a rip-roaring portrait of a dysfunctional Southern family billed as “a black comedy about white trash.”
The plot revolves around the handsome Ty (Jeroy Hannah) who must return to his podunk Texas birthplace to attend the funeral of his grandma—which means confronting the Baptist bigotry and hopelessly rigid homophobia of his family. Wicked hilarity and references to pill-popping, rubberband-snapping and pig-bloating ensue.
The gay themes and raunchy dialogue might make a few waves in this tiny beach town sometimes referred to as the “Redneck Riviera,” but the directors assure that this is a play whose time has come.
“We feel like Tybee’s ready,” says Trammell.
“We have to give our audience credit. We don’t underestimate their intellect, their maturity or their acceptance levels.”
Opening this weekend at Arts Association’s 45-seat Jim Ingham Black Box Theater, Sordid Lives has already brought a buzz to the city-supported non-profit. It had the largest number of people to audition in the theater company’s history, including many “off-islanders” and plenty of people who had never acted onstage before.
Tybee’s favorite musician Christy Alan makes her theater debut as guitar-playing ex-con Bitsy Mae Harling, and resident and first-time actor Valerie Hartz plays deranged psychiatrist Eve “Dr. Evil” Bolinger. Another theater newbie, Clark Faulkenberry, takes on the character of Brother Boy, a country-music-adoring drag queen locked up in a mental institution for the past 23 years for being “homo-sec-choo-all.”
“Clark, he is just precious and amazing,” swoons DeRessett, herself donning the role of Ty’s nicotine-deprived aunt, Sissy.
Trammell confides that she’s stepped about as far out of the box as she can possibly get as Ty’s prissy and controlling mother, Latrelle.
“Wait ‘til you see the hair. It has its own zip code!” she laughs.
Plenty of T.A.P.S. veterans, including Sallie Cameron and Joyce Paulson, round out the 11-person cast, and the one-liners and lashing wit crackles between them all.
The film version of Sordid Lives (starring Olivia Newton-John, Delta Burke, Bonnie Bedelia and Beau Bridges) remains a cult classic, but DeRossett prefers Del Shores’ original stage script.
“It’s brilliant how the message comes through without being preachy,” she says.
“We all have known or have been these people at some time in our lives, which drives home not only the comedy but the poignancy of this melodrama.”
Though the directors have cleaned up the dialogue a bit to prevent any heart attacks, they reiterate that this show is for mature audiences only. They also stress that while these characters provide plenty of guffaws, they shouldn’t be reduced to stereotypes.
“It’s important to remember that these are not parodies—they’re real people with real issues,” says Tramell in a serious tone, then adds with a little chuckle, “Even though the hair is hilarious.”
Advance tickets are recommended, as the opening night performance of Sordid Lives sold out weeks ago. Weekend workers, take note: There are added Monday night performances for the food and beverage crowd.
“We know a lot of servers and musicians can’t make it on the weekend, so we wanted to provide that opportunity,” says DeRossett.
Befitting the friendly, inclusive vibe of this community theater, T.A.P.S. productions are always preceded by a reception. Folks have the opportunity to look at the current art exhibit, snack on homemade treats and mingle with fellow audience members before the show.
The Tybee Arts Association is partially funded by the City of Tybee and recently benefitted from a new soundboard and light system. To keep the organization in the black, however, productions are supplemented by local businesses that buy live “commercials” between acts—original jingles written by DeRossett and Trammell, who put together several hilarious country-themed tunes this time around.
“Some hardcore theater types might think it’s strange, but it raises the money to keep our doors open,” explains DeRossett. “People actually seem to like it around here.”
That sentiment is confirmed by Trammell, who isn’t surprised a bit that this quirky island would welcome the unexpected:
“On Tybee, we don’t have citizens. We have characters.”