I became a fan of Ivory Arts, Inc. after seeing “Crowns” in 2010. Subsequent productions, including “Fences,” “The Wiz” and “Dreamgirls,” solidified their reputation as producers of quality theatrical entertainment. I was so excited to see them return to the local scene after a nearly two-year absence, but was sadly disappointed by their current offering their first comedy – “Dearly Departed.”
Raised expectations that result in disappointment are usually the fault of the person making them and I own that, but Ivory Arts, Inc. had wowed me time and again and I really felt let down. The show was just very uneven.
“Dearly Departed’s” albatross is the script, first and foremost. It is basically about a family patriarch who dies suddenly and the antics of his dysfunctional family who are left behind.
The play did have good points, such as a strong cast. Lamont Young as Ray-Bud was believable, funny, sometimes sweet and was one of the most likeable characters in the show.
Eric Burns was absolutely magnetic on stage and harnessed the same frenetic intensity for the role of Bud Turpin in this show as he did as Gabriel Maxson in “Fences.”
I have seen Lexi Hart in numerous shows. She is always terrific and it was no different in “Dearly Departed.” Other standouts included April Wright-Hickerson (who won an Arty for Best Supporting actress in “The Wiz”) and Marcus Thompson, whose energy and physicality as well as acting choices were spot on.
Terrence Tyrie Ivory, the co-founder of Ivory Arts with his wife Ronda, made his debut acting in one of his productions and was so funny as the preacher – especially when he was doing a radio show and kept doing spirited hops to punctuate his message.
So, there were some very funny moments, but they were not consistent and the story got in the way of the humor. What I mean is, there were situations that were played for laughs and were just not funny. At least not to me, nor to most of the audience on opening night.
For instance, when Burns’ and Hart’s characters were introduced (they play husband and wife Bud and Suzanne) they were arguing in the car and Suzanne berated their children and threatened to leave them on the side of the road to starve. Bud, who had been having an adulterous affair, was drinking and driving and then produced a handgun and threatened to kill his wife and himself.
Burn’s histrionics (he was distraught about a bad business deal and fed up with his wife for nagging him about it) were supposed to be funny but, murder-suicide in front of children is not the stuff of gut-busting comedy.
Sound design can be a wonderful addition when it is added to a show seamlessly and sparingly, but not only did sounds appear that were not synched right, they also were sometimes superfluous and/or jarring.
At the risk of sounding snooty, I think the thing that bothered me the most was that with such a wealth of talent, the script is just . . . well, beneath Ivory Arts. I am not saying that they or any other theatrical company should be defined by what I think they should be, but this was such a huge step backward from the majesty and depth of past productions. I mean, flatulence humor? Really?
I need to remind readers that my reviews are subjective and I encourage all to go see the show and formulate their own opinions. I am confident that Ivory Arts’ future productions will return to their once-stellar levels.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at email@example.com.