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THEATER REVIEW / 'DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL?' : Southern Trite : Moorpark College production of seemingly shallow portrayal of a distinct culture brings out the play's heart.

March 11, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some productions of Del Shores' "Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will?" offer an audience little more than the sort of shallow look at Southern American culture that begins and ends with trailer parks and people named "Bubba."

Those same elements are evident in the production by Moorpark College's theater arts department, but faculty director Les Wieder and his able cast find a level or two beneath the stereotypes, thus bringing the play closer to "Designing Women" than to "Mama's Family." Without losing any of the laughter, they bring out the play's heart.

The play, adapted into a 1990 movie of little consequence, concerns the Turnover family of Lowake, Tex. Patriarch Buford Turnover has suffered a serious stroke and, seemingly living his last days, has misplaced his will.

A search for a missing document is what the late movie director Alfred Hitchcock called the "maguffin," the object that drives the action. But in "Daddy's Dying," the family's evolving relationships are more important than whether anybody ever finds the will.

This is a cast with two Kimberlys in leading roles: Kimberly Sumpter as beautician Sara Lee Turnover and Kimberly Paine as her sister, Lurlene. A schoolteacher married to a preacher, Lurlene has been away from home for several years.

Nancy Truchon plays aspiring singer Evalita Turnover (she uses the term "country and Western," which professionals immediately would know distinguishes her as an amateur). Also home after a long absence, the oft-married Evalita brings along new boyfriend Harmony Rhodes, a musician and unreconstructed hippie.

The play is set in 1986, but Harmony looks as if he's living at least a decade earlier, which still doesn't explain why the Turnovers treat Harmony as if he'd just dropped in from a far planet. Actually, he looks as if he's on leave from the Allman Bros. Band.

The remaining Turnovers include the rather dimwitted son Orville and his wife, Marlene, whom he treats in a manner not befitting a Southern gentleman--not that he'd have the vaguest idea of what constitutes gentlemanliness. There's also honorary matriarch Mama Wheelis, Buford's ascetic and no-nonsense mother-in-law.

There isn't a character in this play that you haven't seen before, probably on poorly written television situation comedies. Still, the collegiate cast brings them more to life than author Shores may have when he debuted the show at Hollywood's tiny Theatre/Theater several years ago.

In addition to the dueling Kimberlys and Truchon, the play features Wendy Berna as Mama Wheelis, Kelly Vincent as Orville, Jennifer L. Racine as Marlene, Brian Rood as the out-of-it Daddy and Daniel Warick as the dazed pothead, Harmony.

Mickey Howell has designed a sturdy and atmospheric set, notable for a lovely vintage radio and wall-mounted air conditioner, among other accouterments. Dana Lynn is credited with props.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will?" concludes its run this weekend at the Moorpark College Forum Theater, 7075 Campus Road in Moorpark. Performances are tonight through Saturday at 8. Tickets are $7 general admission, $6 for students and staff, and $5 for seniors and children--although we don't recommend the show for preteens. For further information, call 378-1437.

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