Arts & Culture

Island Players stage 'Dearly Departed' in Anna Maria

There's no shortage of stage comedies written by Northerners that make fun of Southerners. But Kelly Woodland said that "Dearly Departed" is a giant step above many of the others in the genre.

"It's a lot more realistic than some of the others, less cartoony," said Woodland, who's is directing the upcoming production of "Dearly Departed" for the Island Players in Anna Maria. It opens today for a three-week run.

The play comes from playwrights David Bottrell and Jesse Jones.

"I think David is the one who makes this play special," Woodland said.

Woodland knows the play better than most.

Jones is part of the popular playwrighting team known as Jones Hope Wooten. Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten write funny, mass-appeal comedies that are very popular with theater companies and audiences, but their humor is broad and not especially sophisticated. Island Players produced one of their shows, "Mama Won't Fly," last year.

Bottrell is known more as a TV and stage actor than as a playwright. As an actor he goes by the name David Dean Botrell. He plays a lot of quirky, even creepy characters, on shows from "iCarly" to "Mad About You" to "True Blood." As a stage actor, he's best known for the long-running Los Angeles show "Streep Tease," in which he acted out the entire plot of "Out of Africa" in six minutes. His comedic style is decidedly less mainstream than Jones'.

"Dearly Departed" revolves around Southerners who gather together after the death of a patriarch of a family.

He dies in the first scene, only about a minute into the play, and the play progresses as family members gather, and ends with the funeral.

You may know the story even if you've never seen the play. Jones and Botrell adapted their play into a film version, with an African-American cast that included Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J and Jada Pinkett Smith. The film was titled "Kingdom Come."

The patriarch has no lines and is out of the play very quickly, so Woodland and the Island Players people are giving a little stage time to the company's volunteers. A different volunteer will play the dying man for each performance.

Although "Dearly Departed " is essentially a comedy, Woodland said it has a lot of heart and depth.

"It's a surprisingly sophisticated play in some ways," she said. "It's even touching. When you get to the end of it, you're very satisfied."

Details: Jan. 22-Feb. 8, Island Players, 10009 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria. Show times: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $20. Information: 941-778-5755, theislandplayers.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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