Hilariously entertaining Dearly Departed at The Renaissance Center

Release Date: 8/27/2001. Expired: 9/16/2001

We all suffer grief in our own way at the loss of a loved one. But when one dysfunctional Southern family loses a family member, the survivors come together - or fall apart - in The Renaissance Center Community Theatre production of the hilariously funny Dearly Departed.

Opening Sept. 7 in the Performance Hall, Dearly Departed runs 7 p.m. Sept. 7-8 and Sept. 14-15, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 and 16.

Written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, the play centers on the death of Bud Turpin in the backwoods of the Bible Belt. The production proves that living and dying in the South are seldom tidy and often hilarious when problems continue to overshadow the solemn occasion.

Despite their best efforts to pull themselves together for their father’s funeral, the Turpin children just can’t seem to get organized.

First-born son Ray-Bud drinks himself silly as the final expenses continue to mount. Junior, the younger son, is facing financial ruin, a pack of no-neck monster kids, and a wife who suspects him of infidelity in the family car. Their spinster sister, Delightful, copes with death as she does with life - by devouring junk food. Of course all the neighbors must add their two cents.

The situation becomes fraught with mishaps and drop-dead funny when Ray-Bud tells his long-suffering wife, “When I die, don’t tell nobody. Just bury me in the back yard and tell everybody I left you.”

As the chaos only worsens, the Turpins turn for comfort to their friends and neighbors, an eccentric community of misfits who just manage to pull together and help each other through their hours of need, and finally the funeral.

Hal Partlow, director of Dearly Departed for The Renaissance Center Community Theatre, said the group of actors, including members from Nashville and elsewhere, unanimously selected this particular play for a number of reasons.

“It’s a comedy, which we love, that is set in the South but it really could be anywhere,” the director said. “It’s about everyday people and the kind of things that happen when trauma has occurred in their family. They’ve lost their father but as a result of that tempers flare and people snap and things go a little wacky for all of the characters. The language of this play is bend-over funny, it’s hilarious.”

The cast is smaller and allows actors to play more than one role. It’s not a musical; therefore actors who either don’t sing or are shy about singing on stage don’t have that pressure, Partlow said.

“We always try to do a comedy in the fall, a big musical in the summer and the Christmas show,” Partlow said, adding that the smaller cast and unencumbered set makes Dearly Departed a much easier undertaking.

While the play was written to be very cinematic in that it switches from location to location, Partlow said he opted for a much simpler unit set to avoid long set changes. It uses lighting to direct audience attention to specific areas and also allows the actors to do their job without so much distraction surrounding them.

“It’s not simple in its execution,” Partlow said.

In addition, since it is community theatre, Partlow said the smaller cast allows him to work on a more one-on-one basis with those actors who have never been on stage before.

“I have quite a diversified pool there, and that’s nice,” he said. “They also take up the role of finding props and helping with costumes.”

The cast includes Jackie Abt of Dickson as the widow Raynelle Turpin; Betty Sue McGinty of White Bluff as Marguerite, sister of the deceased; Betsy McMillan of Burns as Ray-Bud’s wife, Lucille; Robin Cherry of Centerville as Delightful; Tony Moran of Antioch as Ray-Bud; Tim Wright of Dickson portrays nephew Royce; Beth Burch, Nashville, takes the role of cousin Juanita; and Kim Cantu, Bon Aqua, plays Junior’s wife, Suzanne.

Other side characters include various townspeople who come to pay their last respects to the late Mr. Turpin.

Dearly Departed opens Sept. 7 with performances at 7 p.m. Sept. 7-8 and Sept. 14-15, and 2 p.m. Sept. 9 and 16. Tickets are $10 adults, $8 seniors and $5 children under 13.

For more information on Dearly Departed or to purchase tickets call The Renaissance Center at (615)740-5560.

The Renaissance Center is located at 855 Highway 46 South in Dickson, TN., just 35 minutes west of Nashville on Interstate 40 at exit 172.

Visit the Theatre page for more about community and professional theatre.

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