April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

"Dearly Departed" marks start of new dinner shows at winery

By By Jennifer [email protected]

This Thursday, Simmons Winery is set to host the premier of the play "Dearly Departed" - the first of what they hope to be many more dinner-theatre events to come.

The nearly hour and a half-long play is set in rural America "somewhere below the Mason-Dixon Line," and is the story of the very dysfunctional, backwoods Turpin family.

Nothing may bring a family closer than sudden crisis, but it also shines a very bright spotlight on underlying issues that are more comfortable residing in shadow.

When the patriarch of the family, Bud, dies in the first scene nothing but hilarity ensues, says producer and co-director Naomi Pyle.

"It's all about living and dying in the South," she says. "It's not very tidy and always hilarious."

What makes death so funny for this family? It's the spot-on portrayal of stereotypical behaviors, speech and mannerisms of what Pyle calls a very "redneck" family.

"What doesn't happen during the funeral arrangements and the funeral is side-splitting funny," she says. "The writers of the play have a very keen sense of how a Baptist backwoods family would react to a funeral."

Pyle, who also plays the matriarch Raynelle, says she didn't have to go far to garner some inspiration for her character.

"My mother was from Kentucky," she says. "So for me to play a southern Baptist woman is not a stretch."

Bud is described posthumously as "mean and surly," so it stands to reason Raynelle, who wasn't very fond of him, is not your typical grief-stricken widow. Suffice to say, when it comes to his tombstone, Raynelle wants accuracy in its sentiment.

Columbus resident Connie Kieiniemi-Baylor, who portrays Aunt Marguerite, says her character takes a very legalistic approach to what it means to be a Christian. Often singing hymns and quoting Bible versus to her "lazy, good for nothing son" Royce, Marguerite commonly approaches others by pointing out their short-comings and isn't shy about it.

"This is a very dysfunctional southern family," Baylor says. "And it's all about their relationship with one another and the baggage they carry around."

Baylor admits it has often been difficult to hold it together and not break character during rehearsals.

"I'm still cracking up at rehearsals," she says. "You know it's funny when you have been rehearsing a part over and over and other actors can make you laugh with what they're doing."

Baylor, who has acted in community theatre since 2009 and performed at many venues, says Simmons Winery will be a change of pace.

"I've done dinner theatre before," she says. "Every venue is different and every audience is different."

Audience members will have to use a little imagination, she says, since the set is very minimalistic with few props making it a bit different from other venues. The play's program serves as a guide by explaining where each scene takes place.

"Hopefully, we will bring the story alive through our portrayal of the characters and the funny script," Baylor says.

Each of the situations the Turpin family faces reveals some difficult themes all relationships go through, Baylor says. For instance, the tension between a mother and son when the son isn't living his life as she thinks he should. Or the tension between a husband and wife whose marriage isn't what it appears to outsiders.

"There's a lot of life elements that get touched on in humorous ways," Baylor says.

Despite the dysfunction, there is a happy ending, Baylor says. The family does bond over the course of the play, which culminates in some resolution.

"It's the good, bad and ugly the audience is going to see," Baylor says. "I would say, get ready to laugh out loud. Just sit back, relax and have a great time."

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