Tina Jo Wallace, Collette Delaney, & Debbie King-Racque in Southern Fried Funeral. Photo courtesy Derby Dinner Playhouse.
Southern Fried Funeral
Written by J. Dietz Osborne and Nate Eppler
Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved
As it is with every life, there is death. That is a fact. What is also a truth is that sometimes when there is a death, craziness comes out. That is the focus of Derby Dinner Playhouse’s latest production, Southern Fried Funeral.
The Frye family of Mississippi has just lost their patriarch, Dewey, who seemed to have suffered a heart attack during a Rotarian meeting. Upon news of Dewey’s unfortunate passing, what seems like the whole of the community begins to ascend on the Frye house bearing good thoughts, shoulders to cry on, and casserole dishes. Among those visiting Widow Dorothy (Colette Delaney) are some of her closest, if not a tad bit nosy, friends: Martha Ann (Annette McCulloch), Benny Greenwood (J.R. Stuart) and Fairy June (Debbie King-Raque). All are quick with stories of the dearly departed and trying to comfort Dorothy and her youngest, Dewey Jr. (Bill Hanna), affectionately called Dew Drop.
Dorothy’s strong willed daughter, Sammy Jo (Janet Essenpreis), comes to the house to help her mother, but in the meantime is so beside herself with grief that she can’t track what has happened with her own family, chiding her loving husband, Beecham (Cary Wiger), for not being a better steward.
Dewey’s politically minded brother ,Dub (David Myers), stops by and offers Dorothy unwelcome news about he and Dewey’s father’s will. Upon that blow Dorothy gathers strength and decides to deal with the problem after her husband’s funeral.
As night descends and sleep takes over the household, the oldest child, Harlene (Tina Jo Wallace), arrives from Dallas with old high school sweetheart, Atticus Van Leer (Brian Bowman). Hearing her sister’s arrival Sammy Jo confronts Harlene about her selfishness for leaving the family and what is happening to the Frye house according to the will and their Uncle Dub. It is learned later that Atticus is Dub’s attorney.
The next day preparations are made for the funeral with Ozella Meeks (Rita Thomas), the chairperson the Sunshine committee, and it is in the subsequent moments that the gravity of the loss is felt with the Frye family. Harlene is unable to answer Ozella’s questions, while Sammy Jo has all of the instructions written out and Dorothy is doing her level best to keep semblance and civility between her quarrelling daughters and keep her composure, all while Dewey Jr. exists in his own bubble.
On the day of the funeral, there are plenty of humorous antics, and true feelings are exposed and answered: some with hilarity, some with empathy.
The play, written by J. Dietz Osborne and Nate Eppler, certainly does not make fun of the circumstances of death, but instead highlights and exposes some of the emotions that come from such a life event. Now, I will say that some of the problems and the subsequent resolutions that the Frye family was faced with were predictable, even a tad far-fetched (i.e., last scene, although tender and touching). An altercation between the squabbling sisters hails to vaudevillian acting and action. But that’s okay. It brought brevity to the built up tension on stage, and just what the audience needed.
Despite a couple of stammers in remembering lines, this cast was fabulous and fun. Collette Delaney’s Dorothy was an elegant Southern lady, displaying charm and tact at every turn. Ms. Essenpreis’ Sammy Jo was high energy and appealing. Tina Jo Wallace’s Harlene was everything that you would envision in the story of the Prodigal Son, or daughter in her case. Quick witted and sassy. Bill Hanna, your Dew Drop was absolutely endearing. David Myers played Dub with all the nastiness that was needed for that character to shine. Mr. Bowman’s Atticus was bright with a surprise or two. Cary Wiger’s Beecham was the Yang to Sammy Jo’s Ying and was played as such. Rounding out the cast, Annette’s Martha Ann was just the right amount of nosiness and comfort, as was J. R. Stuart’s Benny. Rita Thomas’ Ozella lived up to what was talked about her character when her back was turned and Debbie’s Fairy June: what a fun character and scene stealing performance.
Under the direction of Bekki Jo Schneider it was paced well and the interaction between the actors was entertaining (especially when at one point I could see an actor break up during a more sober passage because they were still laughing at the preceding comedic moment). I enjoyed that there were nuances enough to demand audience vigilance.
Southern Fried Funeral is a fun and engaging comedy that had the audience laughing and giggling the whole evening.
Southern Fried Funeral
January 12 – February 12, 2016
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville, and is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.