Sept. 25--"My family kind of fuels my creativity," said writer, producer, director, actor and standup comic Del Shores.
Which means that Shores' patented brand of comedy -- generally about eccentric, highly dysfunctional families in small-town Texas -- is just the least bit autobiographical. And his relatives can recognize themselves in his plays.
"I've managed to repair my relationships with most of them," Shores said with a chuckle during a phone interview from Palm Springs, Calif. "There was one aunt who wouldn't speak to me for seven years."
Shores will be on hand Oct. 5 for a performance of his 1996 play "Sordid Lives" by the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Department of Theatre. The production opens Thursday, Sept. 26, in the Cultural Arts Building's Mainstage Theatre on campus.
Shores will sit for a Q&A session after the Oct. 5 performance and attend a reception. Then, after a brief out-of-town detour, he'll be back on campus, meeting with students and sitting in on some classes, according to acting theater department chairman Phil Furia.
"Sordid Lives" follows an extended small-town Texas family as it gathers for the funeral of its matriarch, who just died in a seedy, no-tell motel, having tripped over the artificial legs of her much younger boyfriend, who's married to somebody else.
The surviving relatives include a grown son, Brother, who thinks he's Tammy Wynette, and a grandson, Ty, a sometime actor who lives in West Hollywood and hasn't yet come out -- in Texas, at least.
Shores, who admits that Ty "is more than loosely based on me," said Southern and Southwestern families have a certain special looniness. He thinks, however, that his play taps into some universal truths about families in general, the human condition and the nature of forgiveness.
Underneath the wackiness, moreover, is a classically structured comedy in the manner of Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde, which makes it ideal for a student production, said theater department lecturer Ed Wagenseller, the production's director.
"Shores hits on so many levels," Wagenseller said. "He really has managed to use the comedic medium to highlight social stigmas that continue to hang over the world today. He creates a world where the abnormal are really the normal and those deemed normal by society are so twisted it's scary -- and really funny."
A native of Winters, Texas, Shores hit it big in 1987 with the comedy "Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will?" He went on to write the screenplay for the 1990 movie version, as well as scripts for such series as "Dharma & Greg," "Touched By an Angel" and "Queer as Folk." He's been a producer or co-producer on such series as "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" and "Ned and Stacy."
"Sordid Lives" began its life "in a little 64-seat theater in Los Angeles," Shores said. "I was 28 when I did 'Daddy's Dyin," and I didn't know if lightning would ever strike again."
Instead, the play ran sold--out for 13 months and earned 14 Drama-Logue theater awards, the Tonys for West Coast theater.
A 2000 indie film version followed, co-starring Beau Bridges, Delta Burke, Bonnie Bedelia and Wilmington's own Beth Grant, with Shores directing. There has also been a cable-TV spin-off, and the play itself has had more than 300 stage productions.
More recently, Shores has been touring with his one-man shows, "My Sordid Life" and "Sordid Confessions." Lately, he's been hitting the film festival circuit with the movie version of his play "Southern Baptist Sissies," which wrapped earlier this year. His latest project is a "Sordid Lives" stage sequel.
"I wanted to follow up on what happened to the characters seven or so years down the road," Shores said.
Ben Steelman: 343-2208
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