"Southern Fried Funeral" On Stage At the Reedley Opera House

Review by Terrance McArthur

“All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1878)“…but every funny family is funny in its own way.” (I think I just made that up, 2022)

Case in point: the Frye family of New Edinburgh, Mississippi, in Southern Fried Funeral by Dietz Osborne and Nate Eppler on stage at Reedley’s River City Theatre Company in the historic Reedley Opera House through March 6.

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The newly widowed Dorothy Frye (Brittney Toschi) is trying to hold her family—and herself—together after Dewey dropped dead, face down in the mashed potatoes at a Rotary Club meeting. Her daughters, Sammy Jo (Beth Applegate) and Harlene (Stevie Barnett) have been fighting since childhood. Dewey Jr. (Chris Weirick) is a soft-centered soul whose interests tend toward Captain Crunch cereal and Star Wars pajamas. Brother-in-law Dub (Eric Bailey) is out to claim the land the house occupies by right of Grandpa Frye’s will. Ozella (Lana Lusk) of the church’s Sunshine Committee, is determined to run the funeral…and everyone’s lives.
Left to Right-Harlene (Stevie Barnett),Dorothy Frye (Brittney Toschi), & Sammy Jo (Beth Applegate)

Toschi is the anchor in this comedy of fluff, and has one of the deepest moments, some six hours after her husband dies, dealing with loss, grief, and anger. She can be acerbic and yell, but she is a “steel magnolia.”

Applegate is lean, and Sammy Jo resents the sister who went off to the big city—Houston. She feels she has had to be the strong one, and Applegate is strong. She can yell, too. Barnett’s Harlene looks down on her hometown, but longs for its security. She yells. There is a lot of yelling in this play, reminiscent of Carol Burnett and Vickie Lawrence in the Mama’s Family stories, but with more love and reason for the yelling.

Weirick comes across as a big kid, not sure of the workings of reality, slowly working out answers he can understand, whether or not they match the world’s facts. Bailey has that used-car salesman/small-time politician feel about him, making plans that don’t consider their effects on others (a person that’s easy to hate). Lusk unctuously insinuates herself into the funeral preparations, and each audience member is sure they know someone just like that—an annoying Everywoman.

Left to right back row Dewey Jr. (Chris Weirick), Harlene (Stevie Barnett), Sammy Jo (Beth Applegate) and front Dub (Eric Bailey)

Steven Haynes directs and plays Sammy Jo’s husband, a counselor who tries to sort out the family emotions, but you know it won’t do much good with a mixed-up clan like this; Haynes does a decent job with his directorial debut. Preston Ward is Atticus, a lawyer with a past history with Harlene, a cuddly teddy bear with a sly grin.

Anyasa Vasquez, Beth Campbell, and Jeremy Salas form a triumvirate of silly friends, bouncing off the family members. Vasquez is the snarky one, Campbell’s Fairy Jane has a cotton-candy brain, which doesn’t realize Vasquez’s snide remarks aren’t facts, and Salas has toupee problems and an accent that is as deep South as a person can get.

Southern Fried Funeral is a giddy comedy that makes you feel better about your family (“We’re not THAT crazy!”), and it will lift your spirits. Go see it. The Reedley Opera House is at 1720 10th St., Reedley, CA. For ticket information, check the RCTC website.  

 If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat's Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is newly retired as a Librarian in Fresno County, California. He is also a storyteller, puppeteer, magician, and maker of pine needle baskets. On top of that he writes stories that range from rhymed children's tales to splatterpunk horror. He's an odd bird, but he's nice to have around.