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Yellow -- Theater Review

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Del Shores has been writing popular comedies about an assortment of Southern oddballs, lowlifes and religious fanatics for 25 years. The titles alone -- "Daddy's Dyin' (Who's Got the Will?)," "Sordid Lives," "Southern Baptist Sissies," "The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife" -- are enough to brighten one's day.

In his newest play, "Yellow," making its debut at the Coast Playhouse, the laughs still are there but mainly to lull us into a false sense of security. Shores has written a darker play than usual, sadder in its view of human folly but wiser in its openness to the forgiveness and generosity of spirit that often make life tolerable. As always with this accomplished playwright, there's never a dull moment onstage.

Set in Vicksburg, Miss., we're introduced to what appears to be the perfect family. Bobby and Kate Westmoreland (David Cowgill and Kristen McCullough) have been married 19 years, raised two bright teenage children and appear to adore each other. Bobby is a successful high school football coach, Kate is a psychotherapist and the kids are as normal as fried chicken and biscuits, even if the girl, Gracie (Evie Louise Thompson), feels that older brother Dayne (Luke McClure) is the star of the family.

There's also Gracie's best friend, Kendall (Matthew Scott Montgomery), a sweet-natured gay boy saddled with a Pentecostal mother, Sister Timothea (Susan Leslie), who quotes scripture and raises hell at the first hint of sin. Kendall, skillfully brought to life by Montgomery, figures prominently in all that transpires.

About midway through Act 1, the family begins to come apart. Golden boy Dayne falls ill with a grave liver disease that forces Kate to reveal a long-held secret to Bobby that shatters the marriage. Meanwhile, Kendall, who has been disowned by his raving mother, comes to live with the Westmorelands. At this point, every character is under assault in one way or another. Shores is at his best when his characters are at their worst, but he's also written a moving scene between the dying Dayne and devoted Kendall that Montgomery nails almost perfectly.

The cast, under Shores' direction, wrings every last drop of pathos and humor from the twisty story. Cowgill and McCullough take us from marital bliss to marital anguish in convincing fashion. Thompson, as thinskinned, perpetually misunderstood Gracie, steals every scene she's in. Leslie has the most difficult job, playing a fundamentalist stereotype without a sympathetic bone in her body; everyone else gets to work through their stereotype, but she's stuck with hers (despite the ending) and makes the most of it. McClure is believable as the doomed son.

Shores' fans might be a bit surprised by "Yellow," but I don't think they'll be disappointed.

Venue: The Coast Playhouse, West Hollywood (Through July 25)
Cast: David Cowgill, Kristen McCullough, Luke McClure, Evie Louise Thompson, Matthew Scott Montgomery, Susan Leslie
Playwright-director: Del Shores
Set designer: Robert Steinberg
Lighting designer: Kathi O'Donohue
Costume designer: Craig Taggart