Sordid Lives

Del Shores' controversial comedy contains a nugget of courageous compassion among the laughs

The boys finally get their comeuppance in <i>Sordid Lives</i>.
The boys finally get their comeuppance in Sordid Lives. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Irwin)

Sordid Lives

Wimberley Playhouse, 450 Old Kyle Rd., 512/847-1592
www.wimberleyplayers.org
Through Dec. 2

In Sordid Lives, Wardell is a minor character. In this review, he's everyone who ever found courage in truth, or salvation in acceptance. Barring that, he's anyone who ever laughed at himself.

Sordid Lives is the 1996 comedy by Del Shores that stirred up controversy in Wimberley a few months ago, when Wimberley Players members attempted to have the show canceled on the grounds of obscenity. It does talk dirty and feature gay characters, but then no one cares to be confronted by his or her own prejudices and fears. Not even the characters in the play.

The play opens on a West Texas family preparing for the matriarch's funeral. Shame, rather than grief, is the sentiment du jour as the characters learn the details of Peggy's death. Only her married lover, GW (Chad Martin), grieves vividly for Peggy, blaming himself for her death after she tripped over his wooden legs during a hotel room rendezvous. Meanwhile, Peggy's family focuses on avoiding the trove of sordid events of her life, such as locking up her son, Brother Boy (Kristopher Alvarado), in an institution for being a gay transvestite.

Peggy's oldest daughter, Latrelle (Nina Bryant), tries to preserve her mother's reputation as a good Christian, while avoiding indications that her own son, Tyler (David McCullars), is also gay. As the play's narrator, Ty explains why he hasn't come out yet, and why he must when he returns to Texas, from Los Angeles, for his grandmother's funeral.

But this review is for Wardell. Wardell (Will Mercer) is an overweight, short-tempered, and brutal bartender, who also wants to come out of the closet. No, he's not gay, just a victim of Southern Baptist mores and an antagonizer of outcasts. He conceals his platonic love for Brother Boy, his gay best friend, by beating him up, and he's weighted with guilt, until 20 years later when LaVonda (Leigh Shelton), Brother Boy's sister, finally comes for revenge.

Wardell's not the only character to face his fears by the final act, but he is the one to elevate the play's sentiment from one of mere tolerance for alternative lifestyles. When LaVonda and GW's wife, Noleta (Ellen Massey), force Wardell and GW to dress like women, Wardell tells GW to accept the punishment, because that's what a real man does – yes, even when he's dressed like a woman. Wardell then performs an act of love as courageous as that of any person who attends Sordid Lives at the Wimberley Playhouse. He acknowledges Brother Boy, despite what others might think of him.

Forget, by the way, that the play is actually pretty innocuous for anyone with a sense of humor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Sordid Lives
'Sordid Lives'
'Sordid Lives'
Wimberley Players audience rejects accusation of play's obscenity

Matthew Irwin, Nov. 16, 2012

More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More Arts Reviews
<i>Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents</i> by Isabel Wilkerson
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
In her second book, the author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines and breaks down the unacknowledged social structure baked into our country

Rosalind Faires, Nov. 13, 2020

<i>Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir</i> by Natasha Trethewey
Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
In her book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet is a daughter who returns to her mother's crime scene to reclaim herself

Barbara Purcell, Nov. 6, 2020

More by Matthew Irwin
Meme Weaver
Meme Weaver
Local distributor Indie Meme brings independent film from India to the U.S.

Nov. 8, 2013

Breaking a 'Fever'
Breaking a 'Fever'
New filmmakers hope to shed light on Navajo Nation's paradox of plenty

Sept. 6, 2013

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sordid Lives, Austin theatre, Wimberley Players, Del Shores, Chad Martin, Kristopher Alvarado, Nina Bryant, David McCullars, Will Mercer, Leigh Shelton

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle