Flint Hill School's production of "Dearly Departed" proved that sometimes death is a laughing matter.

The 1991 off-Broadway comedy, written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, concerns an eccentric Southern family whose beloved patriarch, Daddy Bud, drops dead in the opening scene, setting a stage on which to air the dysfunctional clan's dirty linen.

A play like this posed quite a challenge to Flint Hill's theater department, as it covers heavy issues such as infidelity, infertility and religious hypocrisy, in a humorous style, at times almost reminiscent of theater of the absurd.

But the troupe performed the ensemble piece masterfully.

Kathy Norris played Bud's wife, Raynelle, with a strong presence. Her performance offered consistent characterization and a believable portrayal of an older woman.

Rob Kelly, as Raynelle's son Ray-Bud, kept the audience laughing with his character's worries over the cost of the funeral, but Kelly also was able to convey mature emotion in a touching scene about Ray-Bud's wife's last miscarriage.

Adam Clark, as Raynelle's other son, Junior, and Melissa Merritt as Junior's wife, Suzanne, struck a balance between the funny and heart-rending aspects of a couple dealing with a broken marriage. Claire Holman was hysterical as the silent, always-eating Delightful, and her facial expressions revealed a well-developed character, even though her character rarely spoke.

Holding a consistent Southern accent throughout the show presented Flint Hill's players with another difficulty, but the cast was able to do so with only minor flaws.

There were some times when the pace of the show dragged, but the slow rhythms created a realistic feel of the South, without resorting to stereotype. The technical approach was minimalist, but that fit perfectly with the style of the show.

Despite the comic dialogue and characterizations, "Dearly Departed" has an emotionally serious theme. For instance, in an extremely moving scene near the end, Raynelle overcomes her disdain for her husband and realizes it's not too late for her to change and make Daddy Bud's spirit live on.

After watching Flint Hill's well-crafted performance of a difficult show, one left the theater with the realization that blood is thicker than water and that when it comes to family, love can conquer all.

Sarah Wansley

Thomas Jefferson High School

A death in the family is nothing to joke about.

But when the family of the deceased includes a religiously fanatic aunt, an adulterous son and a gastrointestinally troubled priest, there's bound to be some hilarity, right?

Such is the backdrop of the 1991 dark comedy "Dearly Departed," performed recently by Flint Hill School.

Written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, this show reveals there can be some fun in dysfunction while it touches on more serious topics, including death, infidelity, miscarriage and the importance of family.

Flint Hill's production featured a strong cast, from the lead roles to the smallest walk-on appearances.

Kathy Norris, who played Raynelle, the wife of the recently deceased leader of the family, tackled one of the more serious characters in this comedy. Norris turned in a touching performance, as her character coped with the death of her "mean and surly" husband, while making jokes about him, which Norris delivered with exceptional timing.

Adam Clark, as Raynelle's son Junior, had the audience roaring with laughter. Clark did a superb job of keeping the jokes rolling and had consistent, precise comedic timing. He kept his character straight-faced, convincingly mindful of the more serious problems facing him. Whether Junior was being funny, or seriously contemplating his love for his wife, Clark always delivered a great performance.

Claire Holman played Delightful, the developmentally stunted spinster daughter of the deceased, and stole just about every scene she was in. Her wide-eyed expressions and childlike energy were in sharp contrast to the slow Southern drawl of other characters in the play.

Despite a few technical difficulties, including a few rather long scene changes, the cast brought this uproarious play to life. And the troupe's ability to touch on the serious issues with sensitivity and compassion -- then immediately jump back into a frantic scene of side-splitting family squabbling -- made the production memorable for the audience, long after the crowd departed dearly from the theater.

Jay Liotta

Chantilly High School

Sean Clark, right, plays the Rev. Hooker in Flint Hill School's production of "Dearly Departed," a comedy about a funeral in a small Southern town.