Panache Productions, CityStage, Springfield, MA
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through March 8, 2015
by Mary Ann Dennis
"Dearly Departed" is a wacky play that manages to poke fun at families and relationships while also celebrating them. “Comedy” like “beauty” can be “in the eye of the beholder.” It is interesting to watch reactions in the audience; some guffawing while others stiff as a board with barely a cracked smile. This reviewer is in the middle.
The comedy's playing field is funeral preparation, doubling as an exhibition of a semi-functional family and its dynamics. With a lot of roles, it is difficult to keep all of the relationships straight at first; eventually, everything becomes clear regarding “who is who” in the cast.
Theresa Allie, a Paula Dean look-a-like, does a fine job, as the dearly departed’s deeply religious, bible thumper, God-fearing sister Marguerite. Joey Chiaravalle, as her son Royce plays well. In lead roles, Aimee Lamontagne and Jeremy Thayer have excellent timing in their first scene together. However, Lamontagne goes down hill from there as she becomes a bit spastic in her delivery and character-ish, while Thayer is believable and consistent. Steve Connor excels as Reverend Hooker who has the daunting task of putting a positive spin on what might normally be a sad occasion. Meaghan Carlton, who has but one word in the show, often upstages scenes as she portrays a gum-cracking, face-stuffing, surprise child of the dearly departed.
Many of the non-family characters introduced at the funeral home seem to be thrown in just for laughs. With tremendous differentiation, Bruce Torrey plays two roles beautifully. Along with Rae L. Banigan, as the character's wife, they create a believable elderly couple.
Despite the Southern setting and the accents, there are universal truths and situations particularly in Act II. However, slapstick is paramount. "Dearly Departed" might be a laugh-out-loud show if it’s your cup of tea.