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Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, but that's only part of the mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world that is Sordid Lives: It's a Drag! The Who Wants Cake? production of Del Shores's Sordid Lives swaps genders across the board, with female roles played by men and male roles played by women, but whether it's even possible to further skew the already distorted and tawdry proceedings of one small Texas town is up for debate.

In a community where everybody knows everybody's business, the nightmare of losing a parent becomes even worse in light of the embarrassing details of her demise. Yes, sister, mother, grandmother, and scandalously uninhibited of late Peggy Ingram has suffered a truly saucy, lusty death, which sets off shock waves through her family and friends that forces them together and allows them to right longstanding wrongs. To explain the relationships among the dozen characters would require a flow chart which, if attempted, would probably buckle under its own weight and implode. However, Shores uses careful, corroborating exposition and liberal amounts of gossip to bring the viewer up to speed; in the moment, what needs to be understood comes across well.

There is plenty of comedy here in the sight of often garishly made up men swanning about in the fakest of wigs and boxy heels, as well as in a woman with briefs brazenly stuffed, but none of the performances stops short at this mimicry. These are not shrieking sitcom-drag sight gags, but characters with distinct and well-thought-out mannerisms, right down to their hilarious laughs. One of the show's funniest scenes pits institutionalized Brother Boy (Melissa Beckwith) against world's worst therapist Dr. Eve (Richard Payton), whose attempts to bully the gay out of her transvestite patient take an extreme turn. Co-directors Jamie Richards and Joe Plambeck double as performers; their characters literally hijack one scene with drunken enthusiasm, creating a hostage situation as funny as it is insane and misguided.

Yet as outlandish as the humor is, Shores allows for dramatic notes that take on surprising weight. Suzan M. Jacokes puts sad, eager atonement behind her deeply guilty Wardell, and Matt Naas takes judgmental, superior Latrelle and makes her protective and touching where she might have been merely shrill. As a bumper between scenes, grandson Ty (Christa Coulter) delivers revealing monologues to his New York therapist about his disconnect from the family and fear of coming out to them. Here, and in other key places, the drag element becomes more than a ploy for laughs: the characters' dissatisfaction with acting like something they're not is magnified through the lens of actors playing the opposite gender.

Set and properties designer Michelle Becker has quite a few tricks up her sleeve, changing over the space from a modestly appointed living room to a bar to an especially macabre funeral with enough details to give each setting a complete feel. In addition to singing the play's theme song as Bitsy May, Vince Kelley does a bang-up job of costume design, going beyond "a dress, duh" to really style each distinct character. Lighting by Plambeck and Sweetie MacDonald gives a little coda to every scene that suits the script's collage-like feel. In all, the drag of this Sordid Lives isn't afraid to be funny, but goes for laughs on more than appearances alone. Even better, this gleefully trashy production reveals a pretty fine play beneath its falsies and mascara.


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