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Death is a laughing matter in Wakefield’s ‘Departed’

Ally Markussen, a student at Bishop Ireton High School, reviews Wakefield High School’s “Dearly Departed” as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.


Loreal Watts and Anthony Charles Jr. from Wakefield High School.
(Photo by Christine Armstrong)

What do a Southern mom obsessed with the Bible, an affair at K-mart and a funeral have in common? They actually shouldn’t have anything in common, but as it turns out they all form part of the adventures of the Turpin family in the play “Dearly Departed,” recently performed by the students at Wakefield High School.

Written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones and first hitting the stage in 1991, “Dearly Departed” is a dark comedy that follows the Turpin family as they deal with the death of their father, Bud. On the way to the funeral, they run into all sorts of problems. They run out of gas. They can’t decide on the funeral arrangements. And they have to deal with a crazed reverend. Through it all, the Turpins recognize the true meaning of family.

Wakefield’s production consistently maintained the show’s wicked sense of humor with the teamwork of the 17-member cast, along with the costume and technical support teams.

Loreal Watts as Marguerite, Bud’s sister, brought comedy relief to the plot’s darkest moments, such as the final funeral scene. Mark Tanner playing Ray-Bud coped with the death of his father throughout the show, but did an exceptional job of balancing his serious character with some unexpected bursts of humor that left the audience laughing. On the way to the funeral, Jocelyn Magsumbol playing Suzanne, Bud’s sister-in-law, discovered that her husband Junior (Nicholas Blank) was having an affair at K-mart. Though the storyline helps draw some laughs, Magsumbol is particularly funny when she finds out about the affair.

At times, it seemed some of the actors struggled with their Southern accents, but that was lost in the variety of compelling characters throughout the production.

The supporting characters were also vital to adding comic relief to the show. Dejon Campbell (Reverend Hooker) used his body language and physical comedy to portray his humorous character. Charlie Gaddy (Delightful), a young rotund girl, stole the show mostly with her actions, since she only had a few lines. In addition, Lintle Motsoasele, Marquis Allgood, Dylan Everett and Sheila McCloskey playing the Joy of Life Singers ensemble also induced laughter with their hilarious rendition of the popular song “I’ve Got the Joy Down in My Heart.”

Costumes—from the everyday clothes to the black funeral outfits—designed by students Webit Asefa and Stephanie Zelaya set the tone convincingly. Though some scene transitions seemed to drag, the use of the set helped move the show from scene to scene. And though at times the lighting missed the mark, it more than made up for it during the final funeral scene, where the light helped capture the sad mood during the last goodbyes to Bud.

Though a comedy that evolves from bereavement may be difficult to pull together, the hard-working cast of Wakefield High School’s “Dearly Departed” did an exceptional job pulling off laughter despite the theme of death.

By Ally Markussen, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  December 16, 2009; 10:37 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2009  
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