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LA Theater Review

Sordid Lives

Writer-director Del Shores' spirited revival of his award-winning comedy includes several actors from the original 1995 staging and the 2001 film adaptation. The seasoned Shores rep players blend like a symphony orchestra, sending the audience into gales of rafter-shaking laughter. The veteran satirist serves up an outrageous send-up of scandal and angst in rural America--Knots Landing by way of The Jerry Springer Show. The incident bringing a cuckoo clan together is the death of the matriarch, who tripped over the wooden legs of the married man (Mitch Carter) with whom she was sharing an adulterous tryst. That's only the tip of the iceberg in the family hall of shame, highlighted by the plights of the institutionalized drag queen Brother Boy (Leslie Jordan), who thinks he's Tammy Wynette, and the young soap actor (Jason Dottley) about to reveal his homosexuality.

It's hard to pick favorites in this exemplary ensemble, but the sublime Jordan elicits the biggest belly laughs, then artfully segues to instantaneous poignancy. He shares his big scene with the marvelously funny Rosemary Alexander as the horny, deranged psychiatrist--kindred spirit to Laura Schlessinger--determined to "dehomosexualize" him. The actors portraying the neurotic daughters--Dale Dickey and Mary-Margaret Lewis--beautifully ricochet their punch lines off Ann Walker, whose droll underplaying as the third sibling is divine. As the high-strung neighbor Noleta, the hilarious Patrika Darbo is part Roseanne, part Ethel Mertz. Newell Alexander, Carter, and Earl Bullock delight as the chagrined victims of a wives' revenge scheme, right out of Thelma and Louise. Sarah Hunley brings down the house with her deadpan delivery as a sloshed barfly. Dottley provides a superbly nuanced characterization as the prodigal son, yearning for acceptance by his homophobic mom (Lewis).

Adding a country-western kick to the proceedings is Debi Derryberry, who croons the title song and scene-bridge numbers, with excellent piano accompaniment by Joe Patrick Ward. In this don't-miss production, Shores' sparkling masterwork has aged like fine wine.

Presented by Del Shores in association with Far From Right Productions and Linda Toliver and Gary Guidinger at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A. Variable repertory schedule. Feb. 3-Apr. 23. (800) 595-4849.

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