The cast of McKeesport Little Theater's season-opening "Sordid Lives" rehearses a scene from the funeral of Peggy Ingram, whose unexpected death prompts some soul-searching among family members and friends. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo)
A comedy --- albeit a dark one --- is sure to bring plenty of laughs to the audience as McKeesport Little Theater kicks off its 58th season with a strong ensemble cast in “Sordid Lives.”
If the title sounds somewhat familiar, it probably is. Del Shores originally wrote “Sordid Lives” as a play, then directed an independent film with the same name in 2000, followed by a television series in 2008 called “Sordid Lives: The Series.”
Producer Anthony Gomez, who also is president of McKeesport Little Theater’s board of directors, said “Sordid Lives” is all about family and acceptance.
The play is set in Winters, Texas, and was nominated for more than 30 awards. Family matriarch Peggy Ingram, known in the community as an upright, Christian woman, dies in an unfortunate accident when she trips over her lover’s wooden legs and hits her head, causing quite a stir.
If You Go:
Where: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., (412) 673-1100
When: Sept. 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23 (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.)
Ticket information at www.mckeesportlittletheater.com or www.showclix.com
As family and friends ponder her death, actions from their past --- and the consequences --- resurface.
“The audience can expect to be faced with some frank conversations grounded in reality that can apply to many families,” Gomez said. “How decisions that were made 20 years ago have an impact today. It’s about accepting those decisions and people.”
Two members of the cast have appeared on the MLT stage previously -- Anna Marie Colecchi, who portrays Sissy Hickey, and Elaine M Lucas-Evans as LaVonda Dupree.
The rest of the cast and many of the production staff are newcomers to the McKeesport theater, and some are new to the Pittsburgh region as well.
Newcomer Rob Connick is splitting his time between directing the show and stepping in, at least for the first week, in the role of Odell Owens. Ethan Olsen also is cast in the part.
“The amount of talent in the area is amazing,” Connick said of the people he has met through auditions and the current cast. He has a Ph.D. in theatre and has taught at Cal U, Edinboro and Gannon University.
Although Connick has directed shows for more than 20 years, he said nothing he’s ever done has been quite as quirky as “Sordid Lives.”
The subject matter, language and some of the scenes definitely are for adult audiences. It includes marital infidelity, mental health issues and LGBTQ identities. While those are serious subjects, Gomez said he hopes audiences will keep in mind the show is a comedy, with many lighthearted moments, too.
There really are no lead roles, with all of the 11 characters intertwined, directly or indirectly, in key parts.
Colecchi’s character of Sissy is a younger sister of the deceased Peggy. She’s an aunt to Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram (Karl Rice), who was institutionalized by his parents for being a cross-dresser. She’s also the aunt of LaVonda Dupree (Lucas-Evans) and Latrelle Williamson (Apryl L. Peroney).
Rice’s character is frequently talked about by the others as he remains institutionalized, including his propensity to dress up as the leading ladies of country music. When he finally makes an appearance in the show, it creates quite a stir.
Rice is a newcomer to Pennsylvania, having lived here for only 14 months. He said “Sordid Lives” is the first show he’s done in a number of years and heard about the auditions from a friend.
“They’ve been wonderful to work with,” he said of the cast. “I was really quite pleased to get the role.”
Lucas-Evans returns to McKeesport Little Theater for the first time since 1995, when she appeared in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”
“Theatre is my first love,” Lucas-Evans said, recalling her first stage experience was in sixth grade, followed by many more roles and productions throughout high school and from Cal U to NYU and Pitt, where she recently completed her doctorate in science and math education. The completion of her degree left her with free time to return to the stage, she said.
“When I read the script, I knew there were four roles of the proper age --- 40-somethings --- that I could play. I like LaVonda,” Lucas-Evans said. “She’s a colorful woman who speaks her mind. She’s true to herself and honest. It’s a great role to have as a re-entry into my first love.”
LaVonda is Peggy’s younger daughter and best friend of Noleta Nethercott (Deanna Marchese), whose husband G.W. cheated on her with Peggy.
Peggy’s older daughter is Latrelle, played by Peroney, another experienced actor and MLT newcomer.
Peroney said there’s a lot of depth to her character, who describes herself in a monologue as “the only one with any decency at all” among the characters in the play. Latrelle also is a woman in denial that her son Ty (Lukas Gerlach) is gay.
Each scene in the play begins with one of Ty’s therapy sessions with Dr. Eve Bollinger (Sydney Turnwald).
Gerlach previously appeared in shows in Erie and Edinboro and performed musically in Erie, Edinboro, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, including releasing music online.
During one of the final rehearsals before opening night on Sept. 14, Connick as Odell, Jack McClaskey as Wardell “Bubba” Owens, and Albert Gallatin High School assistant band director Wyatt Wilson as the cheating G.W. Nethercott, interacted with Lucas-Evans and Marchese to provide some of the best comedic moments in “Sordid Lives.”
McClaskey is a native of West Texas but has lived in Pittsburgh for the past seven years.
Alexandra Wilson brings her background as a junior musical theatre major with a dance minor to the role of Bitsy Mae Harling, a local singer with “a reputation” who was a close friend of Peggy’s.
“It’s a great cast,” Peroney said. “There are all ages and we all just blended. Everyone has intertwined. This truly is an ensemble piece.”
Cast of "Sordid Lives"
Anna Marie Colecchi as Sissy Hickey, Lukas Gerlach as Ty Williamson, Elaine M Lucas-Evans as LaVonda Dupree, Deanna Marchese as Noleta Nethercott, Jack McClaskey as Wardell “Bubba” Owens, Rob Connick or Ethan Olsen as Odell Owens, Apryl L. Peroney as Latrelle Williamson, Karl Rice as Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram, Sydney Turnwald as Dr. Eve Bollinger, Alexandra Wilson as Bitsy Mae Harling and Wyatt Wilson as G.W. Nethercott.
Rob Connick, director; Serena Olsen, assistant director; Anthony Gomez, producer; Jan Gerber, executive producer; Serena Olsen, stage manager; Deanna Marchese, costumes; Rob Connick, set design; Dave Fleming, set construction; Rob Connick, light and sound design; Camden Sutek, light and sound operator, Edward Bostedo, playbill; and Ron Clawson and Jan Gerber, publicity.
Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a freelance writer. A former editor of The Daily News, she worked as a journalist in McKeesport for more than 20 years. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published September 13, 2018.