"Yellow," the Del Shores written and directed play received its regional premiere Friday night as the first production of Uptown Players’ 2013 season. The combination of Shores’ work, Uptown Players and a quartet of exceptional performances provide the ingredients to produce man’s long sought alchemy of turning yellow into gold. "Yellow" shimmers so brightly you may need to bring a pair of shades with you.
Set in Deep South Mississippi, "Yellow" is the tale of the Westmoreland family’s trials and tribulations over the course of six months. As the play opens, Kate and Bobby Westmoreland are playfully celebrating their 19th wedding anniversary below a full moon. Kate’s a psychologist, Bobby’s the head coach of the high school football team and their son Dayne is the team’s star.
Dayne’s younger sister Gracie is an aspiring actress and is preparing to audition for the school’s fall production of "Oklahoma" along with her gay fellow outcast and best friend Kendall. On the day of the football team’s opening game both Gracie and Kendall land parts in their musical and Dayne leads his team to a blowout win.
Then a family shattering tragedy occurs. In a domino effect the tragedy reveals a long held secret that shakes the foundation of the already fragile Westmoreland family. "Yellow" is Shores’ "Terms of Endearment" play, which he actually references in the script.
The first 40 minutes of "Yellow" are fiercely funny. But when the story unfolds, the plot sobers up abruptly, almost too abruptly and unrelenting.
While the plot mainly revolves around Dayne, the part is mostly symbolic and Justin Duncan is given little room to explore his character. Deborah Jones is given slightly more room to maneuver as Sister Timothea, a bible-thumping, scripture-spouting fundamentalist directly out of the Convent of Mommie Dearest. Timothea is also Kendall’s mother who doles out psychological and physical abuse with a heaping mound of eternal damnation to her gay son, all in God’s name.
Kristin McCullough and Jeff Plunk play the fractured Westmoreland parents; both are believable and unbelievably accomplished. Kristin McCullough originated the role of Kate in the original 2010 West Hollywood premiere and her performance is pitch perfect and polished. One moment she plays the straight man, the next she’s the jokester.
McCullough takes the audience in hand as she descends through tragedy, betrayal and grief. Dallas native Plunk matches and complements McCullough scene by scene. As the glue of the Westmoreland household Plunk’s reactions to the family fall-outs are the deepest and sharpest. McCullough and Plunk’s two porch scenes are riveting and devastating.
Zoe Kerr plays Gracie Westmoreland, who seemingly lives in Dayne’s shadow. Kerr is a gem. Shores gives Gracie the best zingers in the show and Kerr delivers them with a fervent bite. And her scene near the end with Plunk provided many a sniffle in the spellbound audience.
Young Grant Bower is sensational as Kendall, Gracie’s theater-obsessed, lone gay student in the town high school. Bower’s "Kiss of the Spider Woman" synopsis is thrilling and right at home on the Uptown stage. Seemingly more abused at home by Timothea than harassed at school, the Westmoreland family provides a refuge for Kendall that, while hopeful, seems too neat and unreal.
Shores keeps the play in motion even between the darkened scene changes by using expository voice overs allowing the audience to immediately connect with the characters when the stage lights come up. Set Designers Kevin Brown and Alan McAngus have created a detailed dollhouse of a set which is reminiscence of the "August: Osage County" house.