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Theater Reviews : Where There's a 'Will,' There's a Way to Pull It Off : Under solid direction, the San Clemente Community troupe overcomes dated bits to make the comedy and sentimentality palatable at the Cabrillo Playhouse.


SAN CLEMENTE — As funny, sentimental old crowd-pleasers go, "Daddy's Dyin' . . . (Who's Got the Will?)" still has what it takes.

Sure, it's dated in places (a "cute" marijuana-smoking hippie character would have made much more sense in the '60s). But for the most part, this slickly told tale of four perfectly awful sibs, home for their father's imminent funeral, still has some great one-liners tempered with a little tugging at the old heartstrings--even if it doesn't offer a great deal to think about afterward.

Under confident comic direction by Matthew Rauchberg (responsible for the company's intense "A Delicate Balance" last year), the San Clemente Community Theater makes it all go down easy at the Cabrillo Playhouse.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Buford Turnover (Bill Adams), a widower, is dying. He has had a stroke that makes him forget little things--like where he put the will and who gets what. His mother-in-law, Mama Wheelis (Penny Radcliffe), takes care of him, as does one of his children, Sara Lee (Chris Culver Vibrans), a beautician who lies about having a fiance to cover her lack of a personal life.

The other children who gather to see Buford are Lurlene (Barbara Hollis), who alienated her father years ago by leaving the farm to preach the gospel with her husband; Orville (James B. Faris), a "sanitation engineer" whose idea of a great gift for his wife is earrings picked up in a dumpster, and Evalita (Janet Lee), who brings home the hippie as her sixth husband-to-be.

The more rotten the kid, the funnier the part. Faris really has a time doing a mean-spirited, pot-bellied Orville, with his omnipresent Dallas Cowboys hat and sneer for his wife, Marlene (Pamela Siegel-Berryhill), who, in an equally nice performance, gives him back great dead-panned put-downs.

The real find in this cast, though, is Radcliffe as Mama Wheelis. Whether the wiry, silver-haired actress is knocking Orville's hat off his head as he sits down to dinner, berating the other brats or trying to remember the pearls of wisdom she's learned on "Hollywood Squares," she offers the acid-tongued voice of reason amid the craziness, driving the action with impeccable timing.

Paul Vogler's set makes the stage look deep with intriguing angles. There also are comfy, lived-in detailing and wallpapered hallways (but Vogler has committed the scenic sin of putting up a clock with hands that don't move. Nothing is more distracting than seeing time not pass).

Lee, who has some fun prancing around in spike heels and short-shorts as Evalita (the one who feels terrible when she inherits a disproportionate amount of the money, though not terrible enough to share it), also did the lovely musical arrangements for the two hymns in the show.

* "Daddy's Dyin' . . . (Who's Got the Will?)," Cabrillo Playhouse, 202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; March 6, 2 p.m. Ends March 12. $10. (714) 492-0465. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Chris Culver Vibrans: Sara Lee Turnover

Barbara Hollis: Lurlene Turnover Rogers

Penny Radcliffe: Mama Wheelis

Janet Lee: Evalita Turnover

Tim Mull: Harmony Rhodes

Bill Adams: Buford Turnover

James B. Faris: Orville Turnover

Pamela Siegel-Berryhill: Marlene Turnover

A San Clemente Community Theater production of a play by Del Shores, directed by Matthew Rauchberg. Musical direction: K. Robert Eaton. Musical arrangement: Janet Lee. Set: Paul Vogler. Sound and light: Ed Howie. Technical direction: Malcolm Silver. Stage manager: Terri Gilbert.

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