On the surface, the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s production of Sordid Lives is a mixed bag.
Del Shores’ 1996 semi-autobiographical, dark comedy centers on a dysfunctional Texas family gathering to mourn the untimely and dishonorable death of their beloved matriarch. The award-winning play was adapted into a cult classic film and later inspired a television series.
Structurally, the show suffers a bit of an identity crisis. It has all the political incorrectness of a 1990 situation comedy (think Married with Children) with the sensibility of a Ridley Scott film. And if that sounds a bit convoluted, it’s supposed to be. It’s camp, though it never seems to commit fully, which may leave some in the audience bemused.
A revelatory second act introduces the play’s central character.
Here, Dr. Timothy Cherry defies the problematic man-in-the-dress trope by delivering a contemplative and soul-stirring performance as Brother Boy. Cherry emerges as the real heart of the show, his character a symbol of the Gay Rights Movement in the 1990s, the decade of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and The Defense of Marriage Act. Cherry doesn’t appear to take that responsibility lightly and leans into his character’s humanity with utmost sincerity.
Some audiences will get it. They will relate to Shores’ story unconditionally, savor the inside jokes and film references, and relish how this kooky family deals with repentance.
But others unfamiliar with Shores’ material may suffer from a bit of a disconnect, which is unfortunate because his story of love and acceptance is as timely as ever, particularly before midterm elections where the stakes are so high.
The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre production of Sordid Lives runs through October 2. For more information visit https://www.nract.org/shows.