Review: “Daddy’s Dyin’...Who’s Got the Will?” at Richardson Theatre Centre

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  • Shawn Stalter, Chief Dallas/Ft. Worth Critic

Richardson Theatre Centre’s production of Del Shores’ play “Daddy’s Dyin’...Who’s Got the Will?” delivered an intimate, well-rounded and entertaining performance. The Dallas-FortWorth-area audience in attendance quickly connected with the cast’s portrayal of a 1980s-era family from the small town of Lowake, Texas. Here, siblings reunite for the first time in years to spend a few last days with their ailing father who recently suffered a debilitating stroke.

Like many other family reunions which occur under less-than-ideal circumstances, the thin veneer of civility often quickly erodes to place brothers and sisters at odds with one another. The characters in “Daddy’s Dyin’...Who’s Got the Will?” are no exception. Together, they offer up non-stop streams of personal jabs, veiled insults and bicker like the children they were last time they were all under one roof. At the center of this comedic hurricane, the aging caretaker “Mama Wheelis,” performed by the talented Fradonna Griffin, tries her best to keep the train on the tracks and everyone off each other’s backs.

From one-liner quips, to light-hearted explorations of deeper topics including domestic violence, infidelity, dementia, greed and more, the story traverses some treacherous emotional terrain. Although they could have easily slipped into one-dimensional portrayals of the stereotypically dysfunctional characters in this tale, the talented Richardson Theatre Centre ensemble instead delivered genuine, well-rounded, diverse performances which infused some multi-layered finesse into this dark comedy. This is especially true of Penny Elaine’s nuanced portrayal of the rebellious bad girl, “Evalita Turnover.” Though she allowed Evalita’s wild, rebellious nature to shine through, she also injected her character with light touches of sweet vulnerability.

As “Sara Lee Turnover,” Debbie Deverich gave a rich, layered, portrayal of her character’s struggle to come to terms with her father’s fading health and her own lost youth. Her sister, the holier-than-thou, minister’s wife, “Lurlene Turnover Rogers,” played by Joan Eppes also provided a well-rounded and multi-dimensional depiction of her character.

Beyond the brothers and sisters gathered to say farewell to their ailing father, the cast also includes two extended members who help round out this performance. The bubbly, yet oppressed homemaker, “Marlene Turnover,” hilariously performed by Laura Jennings injects some well-timed comedic energy into the show. Also, as “Evalita’s” hippy tag-along boyfriend “Harmony Rhodes,” Coby Cathey helps diffuse tension in the house and serves as a much-needed sympathetic ear for “Marlene” to lay out her problems with her abusive slob husband, “Orville Turnover,” well performed by Fred Patterson.

Despite the myriad of plotlines unfolding in “Daddy’s Dyin’...Who’s Got the Will?,” action centers firmly on the siblings’ primary concern of finding the father “Buford Turover’s,” will before his passing. How did he wish to divide his estate? Has anyone been cut out of the will? The family wrestles with these questions and speculates relentlessly on what their allocated portion of the estate may contain. As “Buford Turnover,” Budd Mahan aptly captured the painful internal struggle his character endures as his mind drifts away from advanced dementia. Not only does he wrestle with who and where he is, but, ultimately, he painfully tries to recall the location of his all-important will.

Although the action on stage felt a bit lethargic at times, this talented ensemble cast expertly walked the emotional tightrope inherent in telling a nuanced story with alternating comedic and dramatic content. Overall, Richardson Theatre Centre put on an entertaining production worthy of a visit by local theatergoers with a taste for a dark comedic romp told through the twanging accents of a dysfunctional, mid-80s, small-town Texas family.

 

Del Shores’ “Daddy’s Dyin’... Who’s Got the Will?,” presented by Richardson Theatre Centre, is directed by Rachael Lindley. The talented ensemble cast includes Debbie Deverich as “Sara Lee Turnover,” Joan Eppes as “Lurlene Turnover Rogers,” Fradonna Griffin in the role of “Mama Wheelis,” Penny Elaine as “Evalita Turnover,” Coby Cathey as “Harmony Rhodes,” Budd Mahan in the role of “Buford Turnover,” Fred Patterson as “Orville Turnover,” and Laura Jennings as “Marlene Turnover.”

Reserve a spot for an upcoming performance of “Daddy’s Dyin’... Who’s Got the Will?” or learn about upcoming productions Richardson Theatre Centre has to offer by visiting them at www.richardsontheatrecentre.net or calling the box office at 972-699-1130.

Photo credit:  Richardson Theatre Centre