Theater Review: THIS SIDE OF CRAZY (Zephyr Theatre)

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by Marc Wheeler on February 3, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles

HYMN-DINGER

Sweet lovin’ Jesus, Del Shores is back, and he’s brought a band of gospel singers with him. In This Side of Crazy, writer/director/producer Shores introduces us to a Southern family comprised of the Christian singing trio, The Blaylock Sisters, and their gospel legend momma, Ditty Blaylock. These Christian ladies — well, one’s now an atheist stripper, but we’ll get to that — are making their Los Angeles debut at the Zephyr Theatre, which has showcased many of Shores’ plays over the years, including the laughfest Sordid Lives and soul-tugging Southern Baptist Sissies. In typical Shores fashion, This Side of Crazy is sure to amuse and touch. While it doesn’t quite live up to the aforementioned titles, it’s a solid work in its own right.

After a decades-old family crisis put single mother and Christian singing sensation Ditty Blaylock’s son-in-law in a coma, the Blaylock sisters have been estranged. But when Gospel Music Television informs Ditty they’re planning a star-studded tribute concert celebrating her fifty years of ministry, Ditty is determined to reunite her three “superstars for Jesus” at her Kentucky home in the hopes they put aside their differences and take the stage once again in momma’s honor. After a little coaxing — and a lot of cash — they accept. But the reopening of old wounds carries a cost none should take lightly.

In signature Shores style, Southern family dysfunction, religion, and homosexuality are interwoven into this hilarious, heart-rending work. One thing this son-of-a-pastor excels at — and this work proves no exception — is illuminating the complexities of humanity, warts and all. Whether through drama or humor (his works employ both), Shores’ plays showcase his keen observations of the human condition, even as he heightens them for theatricality. And while Crazy is diminished at times with expository dialog, it nevertheless succeeds in presenting three-dimensional characters who mirror our deepest challenges and provide a provocative journey into the heart of forgiveness.

The all-female cast tackles four deliciously layered roles that are refreshingly non-ingénue. As the matriarch Ditty, Sharon Garrison plays the self-horn-tooting illiest with a grandiose narcissism that’s as exhausting for her children as it is bemusing for us. While Garrison flubs some of her lines and occasionally plays to the audience, her performance delightfully encapsulates a diva who’d nudge Christ off the cross if she needed more room. Bobbie Eakes plays Ditty’s eldest, live-in daughter, Rachel, with visible inner conflict. As Rachel is divided between her “Good Christian Woman” online persona and the grudges that consume her, Eakes knows when to wear her do-gooder mask and when to launch it across the room. As the youngest daughter, Bethany, Rachel Sorsa makes for a calming moderator for opposing forces, even as she fully embodies her “black sheep” status as a pole-dancing non-believer who’s got another bombshell at the ready.

Giving the production’s stand-out performance, Dale Dickey (alternating with guest artist Susan Leslie) has a long history of working with Shores, and it’s no wonder why. As the middle daughter Abigail, Dickey is shell-shocked and unnervingly numb; her stoicism palpable. But when Abigail’s decades of withering away in a mental institution appears to have erased her fight, her medication wears off, leaving Dickey to unleash the pent-up roar of a long-broken heart.

Responding to such pain, and even highlighting characters’ pious hypocrisy with an all-knowing wink, is the gospel and contemporary Christian music intermixed in the piece (Blake McIver, musical director). Such contrasts are also apparent in Tom Buderwitz’s set design. While Ditty Blaylock has sold countless albums and is assuredly financially set, her digs are amusingly down-home Southern, decorated with mismatched knick-knacks and quaint, hand-painted figurines. Likewise, Shon Le Blanc’s costumes are colorful yet conservative, featuring muumuus, bows, and crosses.

While familial sparks surely fly in this riotous work, This Side of Crazy is equally measured in its pathos. Riding that fine line of lunacy is a seriousness that packs an emotional punch. And beyond its Christian, single-gender specificity is an undeniable universality. Through the Blaylocks, Shores offers us a chance to re-examine resentments that may be impeding reconciliation in our own lives. In equal parts sincerity and sass the play works analogously as a beseeching prayer: Lord, have mercy!

photos by Karianne Flaathen

This Side of Crazy
Beard Collins Shores Productions
Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on March 8, 2020
for tickets ($15-$39), visit Del Shores

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frank A. February 8, 2020 at 11:13 am

Hi, Mr. Wheeler. So when you say, “And while Crazy is diminished at times with expository dialog…” I think that’s an understatement. How much greater this play would have been had AT LEAST a half-hour of unnecessary and repetitive exposition been edited.

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