‘Daddy’s Dyin’…Who’s Got The Will?’ at Bowie Community Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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Four siblings in Lowake, Texas are forced together after years of estrangement in 1986 as they learn that their father is dying. Only one problem. Daddy’s will has gone MIA. All of the hilarity of four essential strangers who just happen to be related comes together as Bowie Community Theatre presents Daddy’s Dyin’…Who’s Got The Will? Directed by John Nunemaker, this witty comedy set against a slice of life situation will bring out the best and worst in people during tough times. This play will move you to laughing and tears and everything in between.

The Cast of 'Daddy's Dyin'...Who's Got The Will? Photo courtesy of Bowie Community Theatre.
The Cast of ‘Daddy’s Dyin’…Who’s Got The Will? Photo courtesy of Bowie Community Theatre.

Costume Designer Jane Lecher takes the world of this play straight back to 1986 in Texas with her intricate designs. Each sibling has their own personality and Lecher manages to augment these quirks with her fashionable style. A blue hive of floss stacked up on Sara Lee the only hairdresser in town, while Lurlene gets the unflattering floral full length and sleeved churchy dresses, appropriate as she’s a preacher’s wife. Lecher leaves no detail unattended from Mama Wheelis’ homey aprons to Harmony’s groovy tie-dyed threads; giving these characters an extra kick of pizzazz.

Director John Nunemaker guides the cast through the rocky waters of being a dysfunctional family, but he certainly puts the ‘fun’ into it without hesitation. The sisters are at each other’s throats, with Grandma putting her two cents in just to break them up, really creating a tight family dynamic on the stage. Nunemaker coaxes the perfect southern Texan accents from everyone in his cast, giving the family an even more authentic feel to them. He drives the emotions so that they are raw and believable without feeling like a hackneyed family drama that plays to the comedic elements.

Buford (Bill Jones) is the dying father in question. Jones causes quite a stir for his few and far between appearances on the stage. He’s every bit the late-stage dementia patient that his children make him out to be. He moves across the stage with a very prominent shuffle, playing up all his idiosyncrasies for their full comic value.

Being the only son in the mixture, Orville (Ken Kienas) is the epitome of hick-gone- wrong. With a nasty temper and a mean streak as wide as the day is long, this character is equal parts stupidity and anger all balled up into one big bully. Kienas really elongates the sound of his Texan accent, playing to his whinier moments on stage with this approach, and when he mercilessly teases and verbally abuses his wife, Marlene (Debbie Samek) it’s nerve wracking and frightening.

Samek holds her own as the slightly meek housewife with a weight issue. Harping with enthusiasm over her new diet craze, Samek enjoys hilarious moments on stage when paired up with hippy Harmony (Scott Beadle) the only person in the cast without the distinctive southern sound. Beadle and Samek roll well off one another during the scene where they’ve taken one too many hits on those ‘special’ cigarettes. Both actors have a great sense of comic timing and are a pair of crackups adding the much needed balance of comedy to this rollercoaster drama.

It wouldn’t be a true family drama if one of the three sisters wasn’t a wild girl out alley-cattin’ all hours of the night after coming home for the first time in ages. Evalita (Bernadette Arvidson) is the family tramp with six husbands under her belt, dragging hippy Harmony into the mix as she returns for her share of daddy’s estate. Sassy, saucy, and often way out of line, Arvidson digs the spurs of her boots into this gritty character making her rough around the edges with all the unsavory qualities of the black sheep of the family. When she and Sara Lee (Maureen Roult) go at it late in act two the claws are flying and its every bit the cat fight you could hope for. Arvidson is loaded with spastic spunk and she lets loose often.

Roult as the washout of the family is a little more subdued of a sinner. She’s the perfect balance between the wayward Evalita and the holier-than-thou Lurlene. She’s got a little spunk in her step without being too crazy and is often the neutral in the various family tussles. Roult brings a flare to her character by really rocking the bright blue beehive and expressing herself all while struggling to stay sane. The few times she does erupt into a full-on fight, it’s an incredible display of femininity gone postal. But her glassy glossy chummy relationship with Lurlene is too comical; falsely laid on and laid on thick, making for one interesting break down in the family.

The queen of the bible and then some comes compacted into big frizzy hair and hideous floral print dresses; all wrapped up on Lurlene (Sharon Zelefsky). With big hair and even bigger gestures for expressing her emotions, Zelefsky fits the bill of the holy-roller to a tee. When she sobs her confessions to her father they are heartfelt and deep, but she like her other two sisters can hold her own in the cat fights among sisters, making them vicious and very bitchy.

But the queen of the show is the weathered old salt Mama Wheelis (Joanne Bauer). With the epitome of comic timing, the gibbering set-in-her-ways edge of an old Texas woman, Bauer steals everyone’s thunder. She’s essentially two buckshots short of Granny Clampett with her curmudgeonly complaints and grandmotherly gossip. She has a short fuse for a temper with all the fuss and muss of a gator snappin’ in the mud. Bauer delivers her lines with sharp clarity making her sound even funnier and wittier than the text intends. She tempers her character with that slight tremor in her voice which then echoes in her hands as she does the daily chores, rounding her into a well-developed character.

So hitch up the wagon, get your boots on and see if Daddy Buford left you anything in his will, that is of course, if they can find it before this run is over.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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Daddy’s Dyin’…Who’s Got The Will? plays through January 26, 2013 at The Bowie Playhouse located in White Marsh Park – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.