Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of The Exonerated
Dearly Departed began Off-Broadway in 1991 in a production with a white cast and was later made into a film titled Kingdom Come starring Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J, Jada Pinkett Smith, and a host of other fine black performers. After seeing the WBTT production, I honestly cannot imagine this play performed by a white cast, as the family interactions feel intrinsically those of a southern black family.
With all that said, WBTT's cast give the play their all. Dee Selmore stars as matriarch Raynelle whose husband Bud dies in the opening scene. Hers is a performance of quiet dignity and strength. It turns out that the relationship between this husband and wife was rocky at its best and that is supposed to provide some of the comic drive. Ms. Selmore wisely downplays the comedy of this plot point, making it far more emotionally real. Her immediate family consists of: two grown sons, Brian Bud as Ray-Bud, and Ian Fermy as Junior; their two wives, Ashley Brooks as Lucille, and Cindy De La Cruz as the high-strung Suzanne; and a midlife surprise daughter Nadine, delightful, winningly played by Kourtney Paige. All give strong performances, but Ms. Paige almost steals the production from all her more experienced castmates as she sits in the background munching on any junk food tossed her way.
Artistic Director Nate Jacobs plays Bud's sister Marguerite. The role is written to be played a bit over the top, but Mr. Jacobs goes way over the top. One of my favorite WBTT artists, Ariel Blue, is the understudy for Marguerite and I would love to see her play it. Rounding out the cast is Earley Dean as Royce, Marguerite's son, Dr. Lonnetta Gaines as rich cousin Veda, and Patric Robinson as Norval and Clyde. When you can field a cast with three outstanding actors and actresses in throw-away parts (Mr. Dean recently starred as Boy Willy in The Piano Lesson, Mr. Robinson was featured in that production as Wining Boy, and Ms. Gaines is always an asset for her warm dignity and to model the value of education to the younger castmates), you are doing something very very right.
Dearly Departed is under the direction of Harry Bryce who has been responsible for many outstanding productions at WBTT in the past, including Little Shop of Horrors, Bubbling Brown Sugar, and It Ain't Nothing But the Blues among others. The play is written in short scenes and the necessary breaks to reset the stage interrupt the dramatic flow a bit, even with the device of gospel singing covering the time. The fine performances attest to his skill, but I don't think anyone could make this play into great art.
Michael Newton-Brown has provided a lovely set that suggests the southern home of a family of modest means. Cristy Owens provides character-defining costumes and Michael Pasquini provides his usual superb lighting. Daniel Granke is credited as fight director, and WBTT regulars Annette Breazeale (property master), James E. Dodge, II (production manager), and Juanita Munford (production stage manager) are all aboard to insure the high quality production that WBTT audiences have come to expect.
I will hope for a better quality choice for this slot in future seasons.
Dearly Departed, presented by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, through May 27, 2017, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota, Florida, 941-366-1505. For more information, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Directed by Harry Bryce