The Dark Side of Del Shores

Sordid Lives creator Del Shores delves into the personal drama that inspired Yellow, his first new play in seven years, and shares some golden memories of friend Rue McClanahan.



Because you worked exclusively on the Sordid Lives series for more than four years, you had to turn down many opportunities along the way. At the end of the day, looking back from where you are now, was it all worth it?
I try desperately not to question the journey. Part of me wishes I’d chosen a different producing partner that would’ve honored their contractual obligations, but part of my lesson has been that I’m now able to separate business from emotion, so you don’t hear me being as upset as I was before. I have no regrets of fighting for four years to get Sordid Lives on the small screen. It was a fantasy. I mean, I got to work with amazing actors like Rue McClanahan!

We obviously need to talk about Rue in a moment. But back to Yellow for a bit, what inspired you to start writing the play after Sordid Lives ended?
With the demise of the series and all the legal problems going on, I really shut down creatively. I went through a huge financial strain, and for the first time in my writing career, I felt crippled. Not that I had writer’s block, but I just didn’t want to write. Then my great husband, Jason Dottley, who had a dance single about to come out, sort of shook me and said, “You have a lot of fans out there. You should go on the road with me.” So we went on the road — and thank God for Facebook, because we knew where our demographic was — and I played 34 cities with a one-man show I wrote, Del Shores: My Sordid Life. I felt a lot of love from the fans, and it gave me my mojo back. When I came back to L.A. after the tour, I had a visit from a friend who told me a story. I knew about this story, but he told me the rest of the story — I can’t go into detail because it would be a spoiler for the play — and my mind started spinning like that little ball on my Apple computer.

Tell me about the character of Kendall, the theater-loving son of an abusive fundamentalist mother in Yellow.
Kendall is my little gay boy, played by the wonderful Matthew Scott Montgomery. I had a friend named Kendall Moore, and when I was on tour in Washington, D.C., another friend called to tell me that Kendall had hung himself. He was from a fundamentalist family in Mississippi. When I had played Nashville three weeks before, I had actually stayed with him, so it really rocked my world. I didn’t know how depressed he was, or that the damage created when he was a child would ultimately end this person’s life. So with the role of Kendall, I returned to Mississippi with him and gave him more hope. I changed the course of a young boy’s life in the play. The damage is still there, but someone comes in and rescues him. That’s the B-story weaved throughout this play, but there’s a scene with him that I think is one of the most magical scenes I’ve ever written.

How important is it for you to include gay characters in your work?
I got a little flack when I wrote Trailer Trash Housewife because there was not a gay character. Even though Willadean’s son was gay and kicked out of their home because of it, he wasn’t a character in the play. A few gays felt betrayed by me, but sometimes a story doesn’t accommodate that. I don’t sit down determined to write a gay story, but it does seem to come in, even if it’s just a mention — like in Trailer Trash, when Rayleen talks about her one lesbian encounter. It’s a part of me and it’s what I know, so I write what I know. If possible, I do want to make some statements with my work, but not everything has to be overly didactic.

Besides Kendall’s story, is there other gay content in Yellow?
I created a family that’s not the most typical family. The difference between this family and so many others, including mine, is that they had a face to put gay on. You find out that the patriarch of the family, Bobby Westmoreland, a football coach, has a gay brother. So when they talk about him, you realize that this big lug of a football coach has an acceptance and understanding of gay people.
Tags: Theater