It’s been four years since Del Shores’ Greatest Hits (Sordid Lives, Southern Baptist Sissies, and Trials And Tribulations Of A Trailer Trash Housewife) packed audiences into the Zephyr Theatre for eight memorable months, and over seven years since Shores’ last new play debuted. Since then, Shores and company have gone on to tour the country with the writer’s particular brand of Southern-fried charm and humor, and to produce Sordid Lives: The Series to considerable acclaim. Still, it’s been far too long since Angelinos have had the chance to experience the Shores magic live on stage.

Thankfully, local theatergoers need wait not a second longer. Del Shores’ Yellow, the playwright’s most ambitious and accomplished play to date, has opened at West Hollywood’s Coast Playhouse, and what a triumphant return this is.

By far Shores’ most realistic, dramatic work, Yellow packs more laughter and tears into its two acts than any play in recent memory.

At its heart, Yellow is a story about family, whether through blood or by choice, centering on the Westmorelands of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Patriarch Bobby (David Cowgill) is a popular, game-winning high school coach, married to his high school sweetheart Kate (Kristen McCullough), a successful therapist. Seventeen-year-old son Dayne (Luke McClure) is the family golden boy, carrying on his father’s local football fame under Dad’s coaching. Fourteen-year-old Gracie (Evie Louise Thompson), an aspiring high school thespian, lives in her brother’s considerable shadow, dreaming somewhat improbably of future Broadway and movie stardom to be shared with best buddy Kendall (Matthew Scott Montgomery). Seventeen-year-old Kendall is still in the denial phase of his burgeoning sexuality, but to those around him, his gayness is as obvious as a chorus boy in a line full of truckers. No wonder Kendall’s Bible-thumping mother Sister Timothea (Susan Leslie) fears for her son’s eternal damnation to the fires of hell.


At curtain up, all seems perfect on the Westmoreland home front. Bobby and Kate are as much in love now as they were on their wedding day nineteen years ago, and as frisky in bed as two honeymooners. Dayne keeps leading his football team to victory, that is when he’s not keeping his room in faultless order while dressed only in a pair of fetching boxer briefs. Meanwhile, kid sister Gracie bemoans living in Dayne’s shadow (“God, I hate perfection”), Kendall nurses a not-so-secret crush on his best friend’s older bro, and the pair of would-be stars get ready to try out for this year’s high school musical, Oklahoma!

Kendall plans on auditioning with “On My Own,” from Les Miz, despite the fact that it’s a girl’s song (“I plan on singing it really … manly,” he explains in not-so-macho fashion.) Far more daunting than nailing his audition will be keeping his likely casting in Oklahoma! from his hellfire-and-brimstone mother, though Kendall has concocted a bunch of lies to maintain his secret.

While Dayne’s biggest challenge would seem to be which football scholarship offer to accept, Gracie’s is simply to be noticed, something which she does her best to rectify with tantrum upon tantrum, a pain in the neck for her family but a hoot and a half for the audience.

Kate, meanwhile, has her hands full whenever Sister Timothea comes a-calling, Good Book in hand and plenty of unsolicited, condescending advice for Dayne and Gracie’s “unfit” mother on her lips. So sure of herself is Sister T that she goes so far as to inform Kate that Gandhi is surely burning in hell with Mother Teresa, the former for being “Buddhist” and the latter for being an “idolatress.”


Still, there’s hardly a dark cloud on the Westmoreland horizon, the Ozzie And Harriet paradise they live in filling the Coast Playhouse with laughter galore … that is until the day when Kate looks Dayne in the eye and spots something that will alter the family’s perfect world forever, and segueway Yellow seamlessly from comedy to tragedy quite literally in a glance.

Expect to laugh so much during Act One that you’ll have tears streaming down your cheeks. Expect those tears to multiply in the emotionally wrenching Act Two. Together, the two acts make for one powerful, unforgettable theatergoing experience.

Despite its unflinching portrait of religious fundamentalism (no surprise from the writer of Southern Baptist Sissies), Yellow is by far Shore’s most Deep South-positive play to date. The Westmorelands are the kind of family every Blue Stater would be proud to have as friends. With Bobby’s much loved brother an out-and-proud gay man living in New York, the Westmorelands are entirely accepting of the on-the-way-to-gay teenager who’s around the house almost as often as their offspring.

Shores avoids movie-of-the-week blandness and clichés with his snappy, sassy, intelligent dialog and Yellow’s unexpected twists and turns. He also avoids pigeonholing Yellow as a “gay play” by making Kendall’s sexuality but one of Yellow’s many concerns. This is truly a play for straights and gays alike, and for mature audiences of any political or religious orientation, save the most extreme right (though they are the ones who could benefit the most from it).

The cast assembled by writer-director Shores for Yellow’s World Premiere simply couldn’t be better, doing work that is sure to be remembered come award season.

As Bobby, Shores stalwart Cowgill shines in his powerful portrayal of a man whose perfect life is shattered more than once, a devoted husband and father who finds both roles severely tested. Cowgill brings Bobby’s rage, his desperation, and his almost all-encompassing love to brilliant life. McCullough is memorable too as a wife who thought she had it made till the revelation of a long buried secret becomes truly a matter of life and death. Fighting with the mother love of a tigress protecting her young, McCullough is heartbreakingly real as an All American wife and mother facing a pair of crises she could never have foreseen. Fourteen-year-old Thompson is a real find as Gracie, turning a character who could be insufferable in a less gifted actor’s hands into a painfully real (and outrageously funny) younger sister overshadowed by her too perfect older brother. (Curiously, the Dallas teen has not a trace of a regional accent, something which Shores might want to address in his script, e.g. Gracie has gotten rid of her drawl in preparation for film stardom.) On the other hand, U.S. newcomer McClure, a product of a French upbringing and British education, has a Mississippi accent every bit as perfect as his blond, blue-eyed good looks—and real acting chops tested by an unexpectedly demanding role, one which McClure nails.

Leslie has the tough assignment of making human a religious fanatic whose words are so laced with Bible verses that they border on robotic. Fortunately, the talented Shores alumna is more than up to the task, revealing a broken heart and damaged soul, particularly as Yellow’s plot moves in directions which allow Sister Timothea to reveal her true heart, and break the audience’s in the process.

Finally, there is the almost indescribably perfect work of Montgomery, who virtually reinvents the role of the gay drama geek. It helps that Shores has given Kendall the script’s funniest asides, lines which brighten even Yellow’s darkest moments, but much of the joy we feel in Kendall’s presence comes directly from Montgomery. To see Kendall twirl in delight at his very fringed Oklahoma! cowboy duds is an absolute treat, and the scene in which he tells Dayne the story of Broadway’s Kiss Of The Spider Woman is the kind that can move an audience to tears—and win awards.

Scenic designer Robert Steinberg manages to fit several rooms of the Westmorelands’ middle-class Mississippi home onto the Coast stage—and look gorgeous and move-in ready. His finely detailed set is beautifully lit by lighting designer Kathi O’Donohoe. Kudos too to Drew Dalzell and Mark Johnson’s sound design, Craig Taggart’s costumes, and Louise Beard’s choreography. Beard, Emerson Collins, Jason Dottley, and Shores are producers, Taggart is stage manager (assisted by T. Ashanti Mozelle and Chris Pudlo), and music arrangements are by Joe Patrick Ward—all members of the great 2006 Season Of Shores team.

Yellow welcomes Del Shores and company back to the Los Angeles stage scene with a play and a production which amply justify the pre-opening hoopla and buzz. As completely satisfying a theatergoing experience as I’ve had this past year, if not longer, Yellow is a play I cannot wait to see again … and again. This is definitely one not to be missed!

Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
June 11, 2010

Photos: Rosemary Alexander

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