Michael Hunsaker, Jay Rogers, and Nancy Opel
in My Deah
(© Kim T. Sharp)
Michael Hunsaker, Jay Rogers, and Nancy Opel
in My Deah
(© Kim T. Sharp)
Nancy Opel's performance alone is a good enough reason to see My Deah, John Epperson's adaptation of Euripides' Medea, set in the American South. Opel plays the title character, and even more impressively, My Deah's maid, Lillie V. Her characterizations are so distinct that, after the show, I overheard someone wondering aloud why the maid didn't take a curtain call.

Epperson, best known as the drag performance artist Lypsinka, mines the comic potential of the Medea story, paying homage to the works of Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company while also tipping his hat to Southern Gothic novels and the plays of Tennessee Williams. Directed by Mark Waldrop, the production is acted in an exaggeratedly comic style, but it nevertheless contains deeply felt emotions.

My Deah is a former beauty queen turned weather girl, originally from Louisiana. Her marriage to Gator (Maxwell Caulfield) is endangered by his romance with the much younger Simplicity Bullard (Lori Gardner), daughter of Governor W.J. Bullard (Peter Brouwer). The governor plans to send My Deah off to a mental institution, citing her threatening phone calls to his daughter as just cause. But this "Louisiana swamp witch" has other plans.

Opel has a regal bearing and a mad gleam in her eye as My Deah; you get the sense that there's a lot of passion simmering just beneath her usually calm façade. Her Lillie V., described by one character as a "syphilitic old octoroon," is definitely cast in the "mammy" mold and won't be winning any awards for political correctness. Still, it's the funniest thing I've seen on stage in quite a long time.

Most of the remaining cast members delight as well. Jay Rogers is brilliant as the matronly Mignon Mullen, one of three nosy neighborhood women (all played by men) who function as the play's chorus. He's joined by Kevin Townley as Myrna Loy Seabrook and Geoffrey Molloy as Brooksie Jones. These actors do double duty as My Deah's sons, Scooter and Skipper; they're particularly adorable as the young boys, who can't catch a football to save their lives. Scooter and Skipper get extra special attention from their hunky coach, well played by Michael Hunsaker, whose shirtless scenes add to the play's homoerotic subtext.

Gardner is a treat as Simplicity, while Brouwer does a fine job as both Governor Bullard and Rufus Lacy, My Deah's old friend from Louisiana. The one disappointment is Caulfield as Gator. He comes across as a bit too stiff, indicating the production's style while everyone around him inhabits it. As a result, his scenes feel slightly off, and he and Opel don't quite have the chemistry needed to make this tale of obsessive love and revenge take flight.

Set and lighting designer Mark T. Simpson uses the small space of the Abingdon Theatre well, crafting a set that nicely blends Greek and Southern architectural styles. He's also responsible for the hilariously cheesy lightning effect that flashes in key moments. Ramona Ponce's costumes are fabulous, and Matt Berman has done a great job with the sound design.

Epperson's script contains some very funny lines but, unfortunately, not all of the jokes land. There's a recurring gag of My Deah calling out "Boo" and being answered with "Radley" that isn't funny the first time, let alone the third. Portions of the play drag, and it could use some tightening and trimming. Despite its flaws, though, My Deah is a lot of fun.