Yellow, produced by Louise Beard, Emerson Collins, Jason Dottley and Del Shores for JD3atrical Prods., opens June 11; plays Fri.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 2 & 7 pm; through July 25. Tickets: $34.99. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; 800.595.4849, yellowbydelshores.com or tix.com.
Scene: The marquee of the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood.
At rise: The Playwright watches as a sign is mounted saying: “YELLOW written and directed by Del Shores.”
A fan and his friends pass by, stopping as they notice the sign.
FAN (to his friends): Oh my God, Del Shores has a new play, look!Â I wonder if Beth Grant is in this one?
PLAYWRIGHT (stepping out of the shadows ): No, sorry, she’s not in this one.
FAN: What about Leslie Jordan?
PLAYWRIGHT: No, sorry.
FAN: Dale Dickey? No? Well what about that drunk woman for Sordid Lives?
PLAYWRIGHT: Nope. I’m afraid it’s mostly new people.
FAN (sadly): Oh. (then optimistically) Well, at least I can laugh my ass off!!!!
PLAYWRIGHT (with an apologetic look): Well, actually, it is kind of a drama.
During this real-life encounter, Shores couldn’t say anything to make this fan happy. He is also a bit sad not to have his good luck charm Beth Grant, his original Trailer Trash Housewife, starring in this new production. He says, “I love, love, love Beth. There just wasn’t a role for herÂ in this story. I sometimes am inspired by actors to create roles – but with this particular play I was inspired by a story that existed. I stole, as I often do, from real life. I took three different stories and made them into a family tragedy.
“But Beth is opening another play [Grace & Glorie at the Colony] at the same time. I am going, ‘Oh crap! Beth is going to be on stage and win every award in town again… And I don’t have her! My next project though is a film version of Trailer Trash Housewife with Beth. It will be a pretty low budget film but I will use my original cast. I can’t do better than that.”
If there is any major concern about this newest Del Shores world premiere it is the fact it is so different from the farces and satirical family comedies that have made him so successful on stage and television. But after a few years of artistic and fiscal strain, Shores is ready to take some risks and up the ante of his art. All of his plays have been centered in Texas and his most recent plays have involved themes of growing up gay in a Southern Baptist culture.
This play is noticeably and starkly different from his past successes from the moment the audience enters the theatre. Shores explains, “You walk in, see the setÂ and go, ‘Oh my god they are not poor! No trailer! It’s upscale.’ ” Also, for the first time, Shores has moved his characters’ home from rural Texas to the suburbs of Mississippi. “It is in Vicksburg, my husband Jason Dottley’s hometown [Dottley and Shores were among the thousands of gay couples who took advantage of California’s brief opportunity to legally marry]. He comes from a huge football family.
“ThereÂ is a big theme of football in this play. That is very influential. The main character is a high school football coach, married to the smartest girl he ever met, Kate, who is a therapist. They are not even Baptist! They are Episcopalian. So already I am veering off from familiar territory.
“There is a holy-roller Pentecostal woman with a gay son who is best friends with their daughter. That is a secondary plotline throughout it. You see a painting of the perfect family and then something happens that sets the train off the track in a really bad way. It is one of those things that, because of a circumstance that occurs in the play, the secret has to be told. There is no way around it.
“When I had the first reading I had a lot of friends in the room. The biggest thing that happened was they were shocked. Nobody sees what is coming. There was an enormous amount of emotion in the room. They were very complimentary.”
Though it is clearly a departure, Shores insists he has been moving toward this kind of darker drama. “Even with Trailer Trash Housewife and Southern Baptist Sissies I sort of moved into some tragi-comic territory. Yellow starts off very funny with a lot of Del Shores humor in it. Then something happens that reveals a 19-year-old secret that rocks the family and creates a shocking turn.
“I always have hope in my plays and I certainly feel this one addresses that you can survive through a lot of tragedy and grief. But this one really is a sad play. It is hard for me to direct. While I direct I go on the journey every day with them. It is devastating to me. So I come home just so depressed. I would try to do something fun or watch some mindless reality show or whatever on TV. Jason also helps remind me to get back to the acknowledgment that in the emotional journey I have every day there is an immense amount of joy being back in the theatre. I was away too long.”
He was away from theatre doing a great deal of television. With enormous success in such programs as Queer as Folk among others, Shores became quite busy on the small screen. He then poured his artistic and professional soul into Sordid Lives the Series for LOGO. He spent four years putting the project together.
“Then horrible things happened after it became LOGO’s number one show. I don’t want to dwell on that toxic negative force, a lot of things hurt me — personally and financially. This play has a theme of cowardice and betrayal in it. I don’t know if subconsciously a lot of what I went through personally affected the creation of Yellow.
“Two things really helped. First my incredible husband Jason said, ‘Del you’ve told all of these stories at our dinner table and made people laugh. Why don’t you get back on stage? You have this huge fan base. Let’s go on the road. It will help our financial issues and help you.’ We did and I toured 25 cities with a one-man show called Del Shores My Sordid Life. I did really well with it. The fans were coming and laughing and showing a lot of love. I think I’ll revisit it here once Yellow is open – maybe at the Coast on the off nights.”
The one-man show is all about the true stories that fed into his fictional plays. “I start by admitting I am not a writer; I am a thief. I have taken so much from my family. So many stories to the point of relatives not speaking to me. Doing the tour was the first stage of healing.”
But through it all, Shores remains an eternal optimist. “Oh my god yes! I discovered if you separate business from emotion it is absolutely the best thing you can do. That’s what I learned to do. I work with people I trust and who I think have integrity. When something falls apart you take it personally – so I am still learning lessons here, even at 52. I am so optimistic. I love my life. I have a great family. [He has two daughters, Rebecca, 20, and Caroline, 17.] My husband is producing this with me. He is also doing well in music. As a singer he has had a top-20 single on Billboard. He’s doing well. He has a new single coming out next week.” Shores ends with a wonderfully shameless plug of Dottley’s musical career. “Visit www.jasondottley.com.”
Production photos by Rosemary Alexander
Article by Tom Provenzano