Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got the Will? – Cowboy Roots
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Man, there’s just nothing that we like here in the Mid-Atlantic more than some chicken-fried, down-home, redneck-gawking. Give us Driving Miss Daisy, give us Forrest Gump, we’ll eat it up and chow it down. I think all this porch swingin’, biscuits n’gravy makin’, spiritual singin’ makes us feel comforted and superior at the same time. Luckily, Del Shore’s Daddy’s Dyin, Who’s Got the Will?, playing this weekend only at Just Off Broadway, is a little closer to the pathos of Steel Magnolias than the broadness of Greater Tuna and thus, much less schmaltzy and eye-rolling to watch. There’s even a hint of blackness around the way the patriarch of this Texan family, Buford (Jerry Geitka), is literally a dead man walking, shuffling around the living room as his children frantically paw through the drawers for the his last will and testament. The kids are poor peacemaker Sara Lee (Christie Day), Christian music loving preacher’s wife Lurlene (Melissa Patek), plain white trash Evalita (Rachel Patek) and sonofabitch Orville (Joey Hellman). Sara Lee is living with her granny, Mama Willis (Jennifer Skarzinski) when she learns that her poor old daddy has had what is probably his last stroke and so, hand to her head, calls down the rest of the clan. This includes Evalita’s hippie boyfriend, Harmony (Patrick Jay Golden) and Orville’s diet-fad obsessed wife, Marlene (Lydia West). There’s a lot of little old ladies telling everyone to watch their language, and arguing over who slept with whos fiance and calling each other bitches and trash. It’s pretty much true to what actually happens when someone in your family is dying. In a time of togetherness, everyone just acts like crazy fucking lunatics. It must be said that Just Off Broadway is a little further from the Great White Way than that. It’s in fact located in a church on the East Side and the show is performed in a multi-purpose room that also advertises for the canned food drive and houses NA meetings. As such, the tech is really, really limited and the stage is kind of awkward. They mostly make it work, though if they’re going to use the same schoolroom chairs I sat in, I’d advise the audience to bring a hernia cushion (#smalltheatertips). That’s not to say the show is bad, because it isn’t. It’s just limited. Director Jason Crawford Samios-Uy nails the sometimes cringeworthy family dynamics at play here, especially among the three sisters (I thought the casting was fairly inspired, too, especially as the Pateks actually are sisters and look practically identical). I’ve also found a new favorite in Christie Day. Her Sara Lee, like the cake, doesn’t have that big hair the Lone Star state is known for, but her glitter eyeshadow and giant scissor earrings (she’s a hairdresser) say town to me. I found her incredibly natural and genuine. She has a talent for running a string of tension through everything she does and every gesture she has, letting us know she’s thisclose to losing it with her insane family. When she finally does pop off in the second act (right after her sister has apparently slept with her intended) it’s a sight. I would really like to see her in something that’s a little more than chicken skin deep, maybe an adaptation of A Thousand Acres? I think she’s got a lot to offer. Rachel Ptak turns in a fine performance as Evalita, I spent most of the play wanting to slap her, as she’s a right brat. Speaking of hitting, I also wanted to kick Orville right in the fucking balls. Joey Hellman keeps it at the right level to make him disturbingly natural and maddeningly fucked up, especially in his dealings with his long-suffering wife Marlene. Melissa Ptak has a very serene countenance that I wanted her to break more often; I felt like Lurlene had hinted-at depths that I wanted to see her play with more. Jerry Geitka reminded me so much of my confused and wandering late grandfather that it actually hurt, especially as he played dominoes with invisible people and called his daughters by his late wife’s name (yep). I had no choice but to like Jennifer Skarzinski’s Mama Willis – I can’t help but like anyone who says things “et up with cancer” and has funeral sneakers. She’s a lark and a half. One thing, though – for some reason, possibly because of the age of their average crowd, the actors were all wearing heinous head mics that bounced and echoed and gave me an enormous headache. I’d just as soon they take them off. Also, they need to work on those musical selections a little more, they felt unrehearsed and the actors looked terrified to sing.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Just Off Broadway is small but surprisingly fierce. They’re plucky, you know? I thought Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got the Will? was pretty fucking well managed for what they had to work with. The acting is fairly tight and there are a few standout performances that make it worth your while. The shell is rough, but there’s a treat deep in the heart for those willing to venture far enough for it. I’ve seen a lot of absolutely gorgeous covers with grossly empty insides. This one is the opposite.
Running at Just Off Broadway until May 28th (One weekend)
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