‘Dearly Departed,’ a Winneshiek comedy to die for.
a review by sue langenberg
Winneshiek Playhouse continues its 90th season with “Dearly Departed.” Opening Friday, the comedy promises scene-to-scene laughter as the dynamics of a dysfunctional family attempt to bury their own.
Co-written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, the comedy expresses the quirks and perks of any family that may or may not like each other as they gather for a funeral. To spice up the scheme of the action, it all takes place in the South, the rural South no less where beers flow and bibles thump.
The comedy is often compared to “Greater Tuna,” another offering of hysteria where there are double parts, cross-dressers and costume changes at breakneck speed behind the scenes. Some memorable productions of ‘Tuna’ in the area include Mighty Richland Players Dinner Theatre of Orangeville, Timber Lake Playhouse and “A Tuna Christmas” at WP.
For this ‘Dearly Departed,’ production, however, director Joey Davis took on a larger cast than the script called for when too many hopefuls auditioned for the parts; a community theatre’s dream.
“You can’t say ‘no’ to anyone, so we made changes from there on,” he said. Thus, the comedy took on more faces and fewer doubling of parts.
Caught up in the volunteer spirit, Davis also claims to have agreed to direct in exchange for Girl Scout cookies. Beneath his humor and modesty, he has been no slouch in the theatre world. His credits include a theatre degree from University of Wisconsin in Platteville. In this area, he has directed horror including “The Cellar” and “A Shot in the Dark,” (Mighty Richland Players) and a WP directing stint fourteen years ago – before “life got in the way,” he recalls.
There is much talent taking the stage for this hilarity and all the appropriate clashes between each personality. As matriarch of a family of dysfunction, Martha Hoefer as Raynelle Turpin appears to be the portrait of white gloves and folded hands. But beneath all that proper behavior is much angst against her suddenly departed husband.
Sister-in-law Marguerite would normally be in drag, but Dawn Degenhardt makes a most plausible image with her pursed lips and bible never far from her side. Her son Royce, on the other hand, has little by his side but beer cans and a deaf ear to his mother’s attempts to be with the Lord. Shawn Killingbeck as Royce is always a kick on stage and off and whips up a perfect storm of comedy every appearance.
As one of Raynelle’s sons, Ray-Bud punctuates his raw presence with grunts, and spouts while claiming that everyone around him is crazy. Joe Schemel takes on the role in large presence while he paces and accesses his worthless family. With every development, he seems to become larger than life. To gently contrast his tyrannical pacing, his wife Lucille is an anchor of common sense. Jessica Caruso plays that leveling image very well with the stereotypical innocence embedded across every frown, every smile.
Other son Junior by Jamie Ertmer is a worthless dreamer who seems to fail at everything except having children that he can’t support. Ertmer plays well the part as weak victim of his wife’s wrath.
One of the strongest performances in the play is Junior’s wife Suzanne whose bellicose and combative nature rails against husband Junior. Lacee Yeoman as nagging wife can hardly be upstaged as a constant reminder of his failures in life and raises the level of her rant into a most emasculating manner. She grows larger with accusations and jealousy while he grows weaker, another perfect storm of contrasts.
Accidental daughter Delightful, is played by Lilly Rawley who nails the seemingly minor part as the junk food junkie, perhaps the slightly “slow” one of the family.
Returning deep vibes John Jurkovic, following a huge success in WP’s “Forever Plaid,” finds himself in a less-than-musical situation in the choir scene with a chaotic chorus and many painful expressions, and also in a wheel chair with a grunt or two on a lower scale. His older sister Sophia Jurkovic also joins the cast as pretentious Juanita, Nicholas Cooper as Clyde and Bud Turpin, Elizabeth Ulrick as Nadine, and Grace Wagner as elderly Veda.
Last and certainly not least is another strong performance by Todd Barr as Reverend Hooker who finds himself clearly above his pay grade with each swipe of his forehead with his handkerchief. He begins as imposing and God-fearing, but scene by scene unravels until he can’t get away from this family fast enough!
“Dearly Departed” opens Friday April 8 at 7:30 p.m. and runs April 15 and 16 – also 7:30 p.m. Two performances on April 9, 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Next play, “I Never Sang For My Father” (Drama), June 24, 25, 30, July 1 and 2. Look ahead to the summer for the Children’s Summer Theater Workshop available for ages 9 thru 13. Tickets available at (815) 232-7023 or firstname.lastname@example.org.