Six Characters in Search of a Play
Written and Performed by Del Shores
Directed by Emerson Collins
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Del Shores sits at a laptop typing away and giggling. He looks up and asks us to wait a minute while he finishes a monologue. He confidently tells us “no one’s a bigger fan of my work than me!”. Over the next 90 minutes, Shores would prove why he’s a foremost master of his unique Texas comedy, presenting six wickedly funny characters woven into a spellbinding evening a humor, pathos and humanity.
Calling himself a storytelling thief, Shores has spun the whacky remembrances of family members and acquaintances into a highly successful franchise of one-man shows, plays, television and film. Quoting Twain’s remark that “truth is stranger than fiction”, we get to meet six characters that further cement Shores legacy of absurdist realism.
First up is a tribute to late actress Sarah Hunley, who brought the character of Juanita Bartlett to the original Sordid Lives. Shores would visit the actress before her death in 2016 and allowed him to use her as a future character someday. A chain smoking, white wine swilling yellow dog Democrat, Hunley spews anti-Trump sentiments and passed just before the 2016 election as was her wish to not see the ‘mean asshole’ become number 45.
Marsha is a lesbian with COPD Shores bumps into at a meet and greet. As a self-proclaimed ‘minor’ gay celebrity, Shores will press the flesh and have his picture taken with anyone, and when he’s bitten by a fan’s Capuchin monkey, its Marsha who sticks his finger in a glass of whiskey to kill the bad bacteria.
Shores comedy is often tinged with poignancy, and character #3 is his mother Lorraine, an ex-drama teacher and porn addict whom he based Sordid Lives character Latrelle Williamson. Tender moments of her decay into dementia are still peppered with humorous moments like her fear that she’s being forced into a hospital basement porn shoot titled “The Orderly’s and the Elderly”.
We meet Jimmy Dell Watkins, a homophobic redneck with latent possibilities. Shores bumps into him at a Kum n Go gas station in Biloxi, Mississippi and imagines a same-sex dialogue Watkins might have after watching Magic Mike 2. Donning a Kum N Go cap and a matchstick on his teeth, Shore channels the Jimmy as he makes a 180 degree turn in his thinking after being excited by Channing Tatum in his pretty undies.
#5 is a vegetarian-hating waitress named Yvonne (pronounced Why Vonne, cause it’s a Y not an E) a confident size 18 wearing a size 12 uniform. Shores takes his pescatarian friend Christian for lunch and recalls how he struggles to find a vegetable not cooked with some form of pork. Its priceless material drawn from Shores bread and butter Southern environment.
Last up is his racist Republican Aunt Bobbi Sue, who Shores runs into on the way to spread the ashes of his Aunt Sissy. She spews her ingrained hatreds as naturally as she smokes her long thin cigarettes. Two-faced in public, Bobbi Sue will cut and burn in private. But she accepts Shores homosexuality in her own way and this is a common thread weaved through Shores work. His deep desires for acceptance from his misfit extended family resonates through all LGBTQ people who’ve dealt with shame and abandonment.
It’s a delight to see Shores channeling his vivid characters. With an imagined cigarette or drink in hand, he can conjure up the most ridiculous beings. These people make us laugh at their stereotypical hypocrisy, racism and homophobia. They also make us examine ourselves while shining a light on society in general.