First up for University Theatre at N.C. State’s critically acclaimed summer series, TheatreFest 2013, is Winters, TX-born playwright and screenwriter Del Shores’ 1987 cornpone comedy, Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?, staged with brio by University Theatre assistant director Allison Bergman. The title character is Buford Turnover (played with true grit by TheatreFest regular Danny Norris), the irascible patriarch of an estranged Texas family that only reunites in hopes of inheriting big chunks of “Daddy” Turnover’s $600,000 estate. The fly in the ointment is that Daddy has recently changed his will, and the ravages of his final illness and his deepening dementia have left him clueless about the modified will’s current whereabouts, although he mumbles over and over that he made some unspecified “mistake” when he was updating his last will and testament.
Meanwhile, Turnover’s only son, Orville, a surly, loudmouthed lard butt played to oily perfection by Tim Caudle is sure that the changes that Daddy just made to his will are all to his detriment. “I have done peed in my chili,” Orville laments over and over, referencing things that he did that earned his father’s disapproval. It is the only memorable line in an unmemorable comedy that draws far too heavily on familiar Southern Gothic stereotypes limned more originally and vividly in Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart.
It is too bad that Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will? is only mildly amusing, like a bunch of skits from the television series “Hee-Haw” stitched together, because this handsome TheatreFest production — with sets by Aaron Bridgman, lighting by Joshua Reaves, and costumes by Em Rossi — features a crackerjack cast that deserves juicier roles to sink their teeth into. Nevertheless, Sharon Pearce is funny as resentful stay-at-home spinster middle sister Sara Lee Turnover; Amy Bossi-Nasiatka cuts a fine figure as the Bible-thumping oldest sister, sanctimonious minister’s wife Lurlene Turnover Rogers; and Susannah Hough is a pistol as the much married but still oversexed and hot-to-trot youngest sister, Evalita Turnover, who arrives with her latest lover in tow, a long-haired, often stoned hippie musician named Harmony Rhodes (impishly impersonated by scene-stealer Mark Filiaci), yet gets stinko drunk and proceeds to arrange a low-rent rendezvous with a local man for whom her sister Sara Lee is carrying a torch bigger than the one that the Statue of Liberty brandishes.
Sandi Sullivan milks the quirks of Orville Turnover’s verbally abused wife, the overweight but perpetually dieting Marlene, for belly-laughs; and TheatreFest regular JoAnne Dickinson has great fun scolding her irresponsible kinfolk as Buford Turnover’s mother-in-law, Loyce “Mama” Wheelis, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, even when they are her closest relations.
Director Allison Bergman does her best to turn this sow’s ear of a Southern-fried comedy into a silk purse, but its predictable plot and all-too-familiar characters — with only one memorable line in the script — kept last Wednesday night’s TheatreFest audience from busting a gut watching Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will? Triangle theatergoers looking for a real knee-slapper will find it in TheatreFest’s second summer 2013 offering, Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick’s hilarious 1979 sex farce, Murder at the Howard Johnson’s, which delivers non-stop laughter as the three parties of a Love Triangle gone wrong — splendidly portrayed by Michael Brocki, Flynt Burton, and Chris Burner — try to kill each other with everything but kindness. (To read Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment review of Murder at the Howard Johnson’s, click here.)
SECOND OPINION: June 5th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/laughs-accompany-greed-sanctimony-and-hubris-in-daddys-dyin-whos-got-the-will/Content?oid=3649271.
University Theatre at N.C. State presents DADDY’S DYING, WHO’S GOT THE WILL? at 7:30 p.m. June 8, 9, 12, and 14 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 Dunn Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, presented as part of TheatreFest 2013.
TICKETS: $16 ($14 students and seniors), except $5 for NCSU students with ID.
BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=22089&event_val=DADD.
MAPS AND DIRECTIONS: http://www.ncsu.edu/arts/mapsanddirections.html.
Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will? (1987 play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/694/daddys-dyin-whos-got-the-will (Samuel French, Inc.) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daddy%27s_Dyin%27:_Who%27s_Got_the_Will%3F (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will? (1990 film): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daddy%27s_Dyin%27:_Who%27s_Got_the_Will%3F (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099342/ (Internet Movie Database).
Del Shores (playwright/screenwriter): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Del_Shores (Wikipedia).
Allison Bergman (director): http://allisonbergman.com/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.
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