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The Comedy in Tragedy

By Fred Wheeler

The WLT’s presentation of The Dearly Departed draws near, with performances Oct. 27, 28, 29, and Nov. 1, 3, 4, & 5.
Charlie Chaplin is credited with saying, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close up, but a comedy in long-shot.” Mr. Chaplin speaks the words that we often think but seldom say. When tribulations befall us, we see them as tragedies, when they strike distant others, we are apt to see the comic elements of the misfortune. We may see the same in our own lives…given sufficient time.
In the hilarious play The Dearly Departed by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, the Turpin family suffers the passing of their father. Unfortunately, that passing is but one of the difficulties with which they must deal. The Turpin tragedies, viewed from the WLT’s theater in the round, provide more comedy than tragedy for the audience. 
Raynelle, the new widow, played by Sally Kelley, must come to grips with the loss of her husband. Sally is not just a great comedienne, she brings warmth and sentiment to the role of the widow. Raynelle reminds us that the survivors, not the departed, control the epitaph…or is it the epithet? 
Two of the Raynelle’s progeny, Ray-bud and Junior, played by Fred Wheeler and Kevin Walker, have their differences. Ray-bud feels the family loss in his personal pocketbook. Junior has made so many poor decisions that his father’s passing may be the least of his problems. Kevin Walker demonstrates the precise mix of incompetence and sincerity to make you believe in Junior as a real person with real problems. He will make you laugh…whether you want to or not.
The Turpin brothers have lovely spouses. Ray-bud’s wife Lucille is played brought to life by Michelle Hagans. Michelle steps into the character with the sweetness and good nature that make her a ray of sunshine piercing the veil of dysfunctionality that is the Turpin family.
Junior’s wife Suzanne, played by Jennifer Farrow, seems entirely broken-up by the loss of her stepfather…or is it her marriage to Junior that has her grieving? Jennifer plays the brash Suzanne like the play was written around her. She gets to shout, laugh, cry (and cry some more), and sing in this production. You’ve been warned…and she’s very funny.
The Turpin brothers’ Aunt Marguerite has a whole lot of attitude, and she brings it to the table, and to the funeral, along with her son Royce. Gaileen White zealously plays the zealous Marguerite with the Bible-thumping style and tell-it-as-she-sees-it zeal that makes this character so humorous…a sharp and biting kind of humor that might make some people cry. Marguerite has kind words too; she just doesn’t seem to believe in diminishing their value with over use. 
Royce, the ne’er-do-well son of Marguerite, marches to the beat of a different trombone. Royce is played by Steve Lyon. Royce has a plan for life. Royce has a philosophy. His life plan may be to annoy his mother; his philosophy could be described as circular. Steve really gets into the role of Royce; he brings a distinct character to the character. Speaking of characters, Steve plays three in this production. All three are tremendously funny. 
Last, but not least of the Turpin family, is Delightful. Samantha Perdue, who is also the assistant director for the production, is the corporeal (or at least some of it) manifestation of the character. Delightful is the unexpected last child of the departed and his wife; Samantha manages to make this role very funny with limited lines but lots of stage time. Samantha also plays the ever-pregnant Nadine…another individual unable to see the problems with her life-decision making skills.
Another hilarious character is the Reverend Hooker, as performed by Steve Robertson. Steve will show a few sides of the interesting reverend. His portrayal should bring tears of laughter to your eyes, and make you nearly as uncomfortable as the reverend appears to be from the sort of self-inflicted tribulation which strikes him.
The play also features, the lovely Juanita, the eternal Yam Queen, played by Brenda Lee. Brenda expertly seizes the Yam Queen’s demeanor who effectively rubs it in the noses of those less fortunate ladies. Additionally, Brenda plays Veda, the caretaker-wife of Norval. If you want to cry with laughter, pay attention to the little things she does in that role. 
Tickets and show times are available online at: http://www.weiserlittletheater.org/
Get your tickets before they’re all gone!

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