Comedy tonight

Texas Toast

Written and directed by Wendy R. Williams
Texas Toast Productions
The Red Room
85 East Fourth St. (212/841-5410)
Non-union production (closes June 18)
Review by Elias Stimac

Texas Toast is a guilty pleasure, to say the least. Between laughing at the plight of Wendy R. Williams's outrageous Southern characters, and raising eyebrows over their often lowbrow and always socially unacceptable behavior, viewers nonetheless got the sense that they were part of the family. "It's just like being at home" -- only with a dead body, a whacked-out widow, four crazy spouses, an effeminate son, an illegitimate Lolita, a horny sheriff, two dimwitted paramedics, and a curvaceous cop settled in on the couch next to you.

During the wake of recently deceased Delbert Delano, his elderly former wife Lawanda decides to bring his corpse back from the viewing room of the Perpetual Memories Funeral Parlor and invite him to the house gathering. The sight of the dearly departed on her couch sends Lawanda's daughter Doreen through the roof. The arrival of other daughter Annie, her new husband Bubba, their offspring Tiffany (whom Doreen has raised from infancy), Lawanda's son Rusty, Doreen's hubby Harley, two medical technicians, and two police officers soon fills the house with chaos, catastrophe -- and comedy of the blackest variety.

Williams directed her farcical family story with an eye for physical and verbal highjinks. Moving the corpse became a constant sight gag, and entrances and exits were heightened and hilarious. Some of the funniest lines in the show were off-handed comments or offstage exclamations. So much was going on that occasionally it was hard to focus on one character at a time, but it all added to the unreal reality of the situation.

Her cast of characters is both endearing and exasperating, and the energetic ensemble went full tilt with its over-the-top interpretations. Andrea Hoffman as the elderly Lawanda portrayed the spunky senior as a life-loving lady full of honesty and raging hormones. Brian Rush, conversely, was lifeless but lovable as the corpse of Delbert. As Lawanda's daughters, Diedre Kilgore played Doreen as a beautiful but bitter debutante, while Bethany Sacks got decidedly more down-and-dirty as Annie. Brian James Grace was literally a scream as the finicky son Rusty, stealing each scene he was in with his barbed-wire remarks. Mikal Saint George and Larry Nodarse were stalwart and strong as son-in-laws Bubba and Harley, respectively. Samantha Downs was smoldering and seductive as the young Tiffany, who dreams of beauty-pageant success. Michael Kelberg got plenty of comic mileage out of his rambunctious role as Sheriff Buck Sims. Benny Benowitz and Stephen Wheeler were humorously incompetent as the unconventional hospital partners, and Remy Crane made a powerfully provocative policewoman.

Liz Driscoll, James Maher, and Chris Stanis collaborated on the lighting, while Stanis did double duty as sound designer. The uncredited black-box setting was simple, but aptly covered with props that flew across the stage by the end of the show.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Elias Stimac