One thing is for sure with the cast of Denton Community Theatre's Sordid Lives.
No dialect coach was needed for the Del Shores comedy about a hilariously dysfunctional Texas family.
"Oh, bless your heart," drawled Denton actress Sharon Barnhill, who plays the severely coiffed Sissy Hickey. "I've known all these people. And all these phrases, these Texas phrases, they're coming out when I'm talking to my grandkids."
Sissy is the sister of the matriarch at the center of Sordid Lives.
The comedy is about the fallout following the accidental death of Peggy Ingram. Peggy was in the throes of an affair with G.W. Nethercott, who happens to be very married to Noleta. And Noleta? She's the best friend of the late Peggy's daughter, LaVonda.
But the affair is just one piece of the family dysfunction. As LaVonda and sister Latrelle Williamson prepare for their mother's funeral, Ty — Latrelle's closeted gay son — returns to Texas from Los Angeles with coming out on his mind.
There's a reason Shores coined the play "a black comedy about white trash."
Barnhill said the show is a tribute to true-blue West Texans.
"There's always the root of family," she said. "Family is really important to Texans. And maybe there's a little intolerance about things they don't understand."
Director Eric Ryan said he wanted to lead the project because he's a longtime fan of Shores' play.
"It's been near and dear to my heart, because when I saw the movie it reminded me of the Texas people I know and love, and my family," Ryan said. "I see my own grandmother in these characters."
Shores, a Texan who returns to Dallas frequently, has spent his career skewering Texas folk with all the affection in his heart. He gave the Denton company a shout-out, sharing the theater's short video advertisement on Facebook.
"Sordid Lives has such a cult following, people who have seen the movie more than the play," Ryan said. "I'm not asking my actors to step up and do the movie exactly, but there are a lot of lines that fans will be expecting, and we're trying to keep those lines close to the ones from the movie."
Ryan said he also wants to do right by the character of Ty.
"Peggy's grandson, Ty Williamson, has been in Los Angeles, and he's so worried about being himself with his mama. I wanted to honor that story in a way that if the playwright walked into the theater, he'd be pleased with what we've done," he said.
Ryan said the reason Shores' plays — Daddy's Dyin'... Who's Got the Will, Southern Baptist Sissies: A Play in Two Acts and Daughters of the Lone Star State — have been successful is because they make light of simple Texans, but without drawing blood.
"It actually says in the script that these characters are real people. They aren't cartoons," Ryan said. "He's based these characters on people he's encountered in his life."
"If we played these characters like cartoons, it wouldn't be funny," Barnhill said.
"It wouldn't," said Connie Lane, who plays the role of LaVonda. "It would just be mean. And this show isn't mean."
Elsie Barrow, a longtime costumer for Denton Community Theatre, plays the role of Juanita, a chain-smoking alcoholic.
"These people are my family," she said. "That's how I know how to play them."
Denton native Doug Fowler plays the role of Earl "Brother Boy" Ingram. While his nephew Ty has been living honesty in the City of Angels, Brother Boy has been living large — in a mental institution. His delusion?
"My mother has been trying to hide me for being a country drag queen," said Fowler, who is commuting to Denton from Euless. "I am obsessed with Tammy Wynette, fascinated by her. He's just always been attracted to these country queens, he calls them."
Keri Peters plays Dr. Eve Bolinger, the therapist doing her best to "de-homosexualize" Brother Boy.
"Because if I can de-homosexualize him, I can cure anyone. And then I can sell my book and be on Oprah," Peters said. "I'm not having any luck, though."
Even with all the conflict, the characters find a messy kind of order to their lives. Melissa Brown, who plays the role of Latrelle Williamson said the main ingredient the family finds that keeps them connected is that mysterious thing that is always patient and always kind (Baptist Texans know this Bible verse like the backs of their hands.)
"It's love," she said. "They love each other. They love their family."
Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday Sept. 15-16, and Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 21-23. Matinee performances are at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17 and 24.
All performances are in the Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St.
Tickets cost $22 for adults, $18 for seniors ages 62 and up, $15 for students and $10 for ages 12 and under. For reservations, call 940-202-1025 or visit www.dentoncomunitytheatre.com.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.
FEATURE IMAGE: Campus Theatre in Denton, Texas, Jeff Woo/DRC.