'Sordid Lives'

Wimberley Players audience rejects accusation of play's obscenity

Playwright Del Shores (r) and Wimberley Players Artistic Director John Hood discuss the controversy over the production of <i>Sordid Lives</i>.
Playwright Del Shores (r) and Wimberley Players Artistic Director John Hood discuss the controversy over the production of Sordid Lives. (by Matthew Irwin)

By a show of hands, the majority of the audience attending the Sordid Lives preview Nov. 8 at Wimberley Playhouse indicated that they'd come because they'd heard about the controversy. The 117-seat house was full.

After the performance, playwright Del Shores spoke about the hullabaloo among the neighbors of Wimberley, occasionally reading names from the Aug. 14 petition that called for the play to be canceled. The petition to company president Kay Allison, which arrived as director Aaron Johnson was still casting, initiated a series of events concerned with Shores' employ of illicit language and gay characters.

"When you use these words like 'family values' or say 'the characters are stereotypical,' what they're really saying is: 'We don't want gay on our stage,'" said Shores, who lives in Los Angeles, but was raised in Winters, Texas.

An author of the petition did not return calls for comment, but a Wimberley Players representative told the Chronicle, via email, that in addition to becoming the target of homophobia and plain-old skittishness, the play had become an arena for unrelated and unsettled personal grievances among company members.

Artistic Director John Hood says that he first learned of the objection in a July 12 letter penned by board member Allen Eastman.

The petition itself is rather mild – calling for a special meeting of company members to replace Sordid Lives with a play more "appropriate for the membership and the community as a whole" – however, a Sept. 8 letter to the editor written on behalf of the petitioners to the Wimberley View declares the play "obscene and pornographic," warning that it will damage the company's reputation. (Johnson, cast, and crew had previously determined to use an alternative script provided by Shores with less illicit language.) The letter also encourages "currently paid up members" to attend the meeting. A second letter in the View, which repeatedly bemoans political correctness, is less careful: "Hood assures us how wonderfully humorous it will be to view, for the duration of the play, the antics of Ty, who is 'gay.'... God forbid we refer to him as 'homo' or 'queer.'"

Attendees at the Sept. 10 membership meeting, well attended by non-members, employed a menagerie of affecting words, such as "obscene," "Christian" and "censorship," on behalf of the community. But, according to one attendee, when community members attempted to support the play, the opposition argued that Wimberley Players members retained exclusive right to speak. The meeting concluded without action.

"I don't think any of these people read the script," Shores said about the work, penned in 1996. "This play is not overly gay. It's much more about family."

Sordid Lives zooms in on a West Texas family right after the matriarch dies by tripping over her married lover's wooden legs. She had locked her son in the loony bin for being a gay transvestite, and, unbeknownst to her, her grandson Tyler is a gay actor in Los Angeles. Tyler is also the play's narrator, appearing only briefly before each act and in the final scene, primarily discussing his fear of coming out to his very conservative mother. The bulk of the show focuses on his family and the sordid little revelations brought on by the matriarch's death.

"I'm a Texan, so it's insulting to me when they say I write caricatures," Shores told the Wimberley Playhouse audience. "Because the one reaction I get about this play is 'I have an Aunt Sissy.' Or 'I have an Aunt LaVonda.' Or 'My mother is Latrelle.' Well, my mother is Latrelle."

Shores explained that he knows firsthand the experience of coming out to his family and the challenge of facing people afraid of the change.

"What happens when you're gay is it takes us a long time to deal with it, and then we expect that everyone else should just deal with it immediately," Shores said. "You have to give them time as well."

Shores concluded with words of encouragement.

"Tell everyone to see this play. Fill the seats every night," he said. "It will be the biggest 'fuck you' to [the opposition]."

Sordid Lives runs through Dec. 2, Fri.-Sat., 8pm; Sun., 2:30pm, at the Wimberley Playhouse, 450 Old Kyle Rd., Wimberley. For more information, call 512/847-1592 or visit www.wimberleyplayers.org.

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Sordid Lives, Wimberley Players, Del Shores, John Hood, Wimberley Playhouse

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