’Will’ to succeed

By Mary C. Cusack

Committed cast brings heartwarming comedy to Civic Players’ stage

The latest production by Lansing Civic Players is a classic story of adult children who learn to rise above their petty childhood roles and rivalries when faced with the crisis of a dying parent. Directed by Tony Sump, “Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will?” is a character-driven play that, in the hands of a less-skilled cast and director, could easily become an exercise in mocking smalltown stereotypes.

The play opens slowly, with Sara Lee (Marni Darr Holmes) on the telephone, explaining to a friend that her terminally ill father is on his way home, and her siblings will be arriving shortly to help care for him and say goodbye. This exposition is slow, but as more characters arrive the pace quickens, fueled by adult sibling rivalry.

Sara Lee is the child who stayed inthe hometown, caring for her parents and grandmother, Mama Wheelis (Marie Papciak). Eldest child Lurlene (Kerry Waters) is married to a preacher, and had limited contact with the family for 10 years. Son Orville (Rick Wendorf) is a lazy, sullen, abusive jerk who takes his unhappiness out on his wife, Marlene (Sandy Van Lancker). The baby of the family is spoiled Evalita (Jillanne Maddix), which rhymes with Lolita, likely a conscious choice by playwright Del Shores.

Evalita is the epitome of the small-town tramp who has used men as a way of moving through the world. It is Evalita who brings the most conflict, but also brings the most harmony, literally. Her latest beau, Harmony Rhodes, is a hippy musician played excellently by Mark Boyd.

With a cast of over-the-top characters like these, it would be very easy to dismiss Boyd’s performance as underwhelming. However, Boyd plays Harmony with a reserved economy and imbues him with a zen-like calm. Harmony observes the dynamics around him, and he knows when to get involved and
when to let the family tifts play out.

The costumes are an appropriate
but often painful reminder of ‘80s fashion, or lack thereof. The set is
outfitted nicely as a small-town 1980s home, full of tacky paintings
and bric-a-brac. The plethora of props tends to slow transitions
between scenes, a minor annoyance that also adds time to the two and a
half-hour production.

Despite some flubbed lines and uneven
pacing, Saturday night’s show was well received by the audience, which
reacted audibly to the comedic moments and the heartbreaking ones. The
play is constructed well, balancing pain and levity to great effect.
The most gut-wrenching moment, when Daddy Buford (Steve Shelton) sings
a lullaby to comfort a distraught Sara Lee, caused more than a few
sniffles in the audience. The immediate reward for enduring this is the
hilarious interaction between toked-up Harmony and Marlene. They are
proof-positive that watching stoners satisfy the munchies is pretty
much always amusing.

So, who does have the will? Forget about the piece
of paper. It is this able and committed cast that has the will to
present an ultimately funny, touching and rewarding story.

‘Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will?’

March 29 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday Lansing Civic
Players, Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing $8-$15
(517) 484-9191 www.lansingcivicplayers.org