Southern Fried Funeral (2018)

Southern Fried Funeral Synopsis

 Bless their hearts; J. Dietz Osborne and Nate Eppler have scored a bona fide hit with their latest collaboration “Southern Fried Funeral.” The play is genuinely funny while being affectionate toward the cast of characters created by the playwrights. The comedy offers a view into Southern manners and traditions.

Clearly, Osborne and Eppler are writing about people, places and things they have known from birth. They display an impressive knowledge of what constitutes proper funeral etiquette and the peculiarly Southern way of life and death in all its “Jesus Called…And Dewey Answered” glory!

Throughout the plays you’ll see flashes of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias and Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes.  The playwrights succeed in adding their own unique voices to that softly lilting cacophony of regional drawls. The characters have clearly defined personalities, all of whom speak in their own individual voices. The dialogue created by Osborne and Eppler is wonderfully genuine.

Set in the small Mississippi town of New Edinburgh, the play’s action takes place over several days in August during the funeral of Dewey Frye, who dropped dead in the middle of a joke to the Rotarians during their dinner meeting. His wife, Dorothy, is faced with dealing with funeral arrangements, the realities of widowhood and a crazy assemblage of family.

The characters are as colorfully wacky as you’d find in any Southern neighborhood and the relationships are as richly diverse as you would expect to find. There are Dorothy and Dewey’s three children: Harlene, the black sheep daughter who made off for Dallas at the first opportunity; Sammy Jo, the younger daughter who personifies contemporary Southern belle perfection and Dewey Jr., aka “Dew Drop” who’s kinda daft in a sweetly weird way.

Adding to the equation is Dub Frye, the late Dewey’s dastardly brother, with just the right blend of condescension and smarmy Southern charm.

The cast also includes Atticus Van Leer, the Frye family’s consigliere (that’s “lawyer” for all you hicks out there) Sammy Jo’s adoring husband (who obviously loves her despite the fact that she’s overbearing and bossy). The cast is completed by five friends (of a sort) of the Frye family.

The play’s action is propelled along at a strong pace and creates tableaux that makes for pleasing visual effects onstage. The actors will have a grand time with “Southern Fried Funeral” which will translate wonderfully onstage, making it a surefire hit with audiences. The play will run August 3, 4, 5 and August 10, 11, 12.

Director’s Chair: Southern Fried Funeral

By Linda Sustman

 This comedy, full of family intrigue, is set in a small Mississippi town. The play’s action takes place over several days when family and friends gather after Dewey Frye has dropped dead telling a joke at the Rotarian’s meeting. His widow, Dorothy, is faced with the realities of widowhood and a crazy assemblage of southern personalities.

The characters are as colorfully wacky as you’d find in any southern neighborhood and the relationships are as richly diverse. Dorothy played by Marsha Propps is a veteran actress. She uses her skills to bring this strong southern woman to life. She is the mother of three children.  Jayne Heckman returns to the stage doing a brilliant job as Harlene, the black sheep daughter who ran off to Dallas at the first opportunity. After 10 years Harlene returns to the annoyance of her sister Sammy Jo. This daughter personifies perfection in everything she does. Portrayed by Sandy Dyke, she makes you believe she is the epitome of a true southern belle. Dewey Jr., aka “Dew Drop”, who’s daft in a sweetly weird way is played by Brian Cantrell. This is Brian’s second play of the season. He does a fine job in both!

Adding to the equation is Dub Frye, the late Dewey’s dastardly brother, with just the right blend of condescension and smarmy Southern charm. Played by Les Maurseth who rejoins the acting ranks after directing Pinewood Player’s first play of the season. The cast also includes Atticus Van Leer, the Frye family’s consigliere (that’s “lawyer” for all you hicks out there). Scott Sustman plays this role as only a veteran actor can!  This is Scott’s second play of the season.  Sammy Jo’s husband is Beecham, who loves her even though she’s overbearing and bossy. Gene Propps is excellent in this role.  He has appeared in several Pinewood plays. Martha Ann is the widow’s best friend who is caring but a bit snarky at times. Returning to the stage, is Barbara Maurseth. She really does a fine job with this role!  New to Pinewood Player’s is Kathy Vogt. She plays the part of Ozella, the overzealous chairman of the “Son Shine” Committee at the church! Kathy is excellent in this role even if she might have stolen a pair of candlesticks from a prior funeral. Fairy June is another contemporary of the widow Dorothy. This part calls for Sandy Kyle to act the part of a ditsy friend. Sandy will have you believing she is that character! Bob Flach is another newcomer to the stage. As Benny Charles, he plays the best friend of the deceased. Bob does a great job as he tries to keep a steady head while keeping his toupee on!

Southern Fried Funeral is genuinely funny while delving into a cast of characters that offer a view into Southern manners, traditions and family dynamics at their best and worst. Bless their lil’ hearts!

Review of Southern Fried Funeral
By Vy Armour

Southern Fried Funeral is a genuinely funny play with a cast of characters who portray, as Director Linda Sustman says,  “the best and worst of Southern manners, traditions and family dynamics.”  Casting was excellent, as were the performances of the eleven actors including three who were making their debut on the Pinewood stage:  Sandy Dyke, Kathy Vogt and Bob Flach.

Set in a small Mississippi town, the action takes place over several days when friends and family gather after Dewey Frye has dropped dead telling a joke at the Rotarian’s weekly meeting. His widow, Dorothy, played by Marsha Propps, brings to life the role of the strong Southern woman. Marsha says comedy is her first love and it shows as she manages to bring out humor at a somber time in Dorothy’s life.  As a veteran actor, she shows her ability to play a fully dimensional character when she touches our hearts in the scene where she displays her sense of loss.

Dorothy’s daughters, Sammy Jo Frye (played by Sandy Dyke) and Harlene Frye (played by Jayne King Heckman) are excellent in their roles of sisters who have sibling rivalry and issues that have built up for the past ten years. It’s hard to believe that this was Sandy’s debut performance and hopefully she will return to the Pinewood stage. Jayne was perfectly cast as the sister who personified perfection and also played this role to perfection.  Sandy was very convincing in the role of the overbearing bossy sis.

Dorothy’s son, Dewey Jr., played by Brian Cantrell, provides many comedic moments as he is daft in a sweet weird way. He weaves in and out of the scenes with his own peculiar agenda that always elicits a laugh from the audience.

As the plot develops we meet Atticus Van Leer, the family lawyer, played by Scott Sustman. This is Scott’s second play of the season where once again he displays his versatility in acting, somehow fitting whatever role he has so perfectly.   We also meet the deceased’s brother, Dub Frye, played by Les Maurseth, who says his role is the “snake in the grass”. This is not the first villain he has played and hopefully it will not be his last. Careful Les or you will soon be “type cast”.

Gene Propps plays Beeham Leffette, husband of Sammy Jo, exhibiting extreme patience and loving kindness to her in spite of her faults. Gene is a veteran actor, most notably known for his excellent repeat performances in Readers’ Theatre as Lou Costello in “Who’s on First?”

Barbara Maurseth returns to the Pinewood stage as Dorothy’s best friend in an excellent performance as does Sandy Kyle as Fairy June Cooper, a ditsy friend who has some great lines and delivers them with conviction!   Bob Flach, a newcomer to the stage, plays Benny Charles, best friend of the deceased. He tries to keep a steady head while keeping his toupee on.

And last but definitely not least (in fact she is a show-stopper)  is Kathy Vogt in the role of Ozella Meeks, the overzealous chairwoman of the church Sun Shine Committee.  One would never guess that this is her first appearance on the Pinewood stage. She has great stage presence and her facial expressions and body language are as powerful as her dialogue.

This review would be remiss to not mention the beautiful set design of the family home and also the ability of all the actors to speak in authentic southern drawls and stay in character throughout the play.  Credit must also be given to the many crew members behind the scenes including Alta Thompson, Terri Brown, Cathy Rasmussen, Betsy Froderman, Joe Brown, Jim Burnett, Terri Seiber, Bill Heckman, Pam Keating, Cassie Walters, Sandy Forsythe, Dovey Templin,  Jane Edwards, Tim Forsythe, Harold Withers, and Carlos Navarette.

And kudos to Director, Linda Sustman, who we are so fortunate to have in Munds Park– all the way from Texas, where she has written and produced an annual production in her hometown for more years than she cares to say. It’s obvious this cast worked hard to produce such a polished performance but what also came through was their enjoyment of the performance and each other as well.

What a pleasure to be asked to write a review when a play is so well done.  The praise is genuine.  And to close with a true southern phrase…Bless all their hearts!

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