When “Sordid Lives” ended its original run as a stage play in Los Angeles, Calif. in 1996, the show’s writer and director, Del Shores, and the cast had no idea it would go on to have such a long and varied life.
The play won over a dozen Drama-Logue Awards and gained a cult following in the LGBT community, especially in the South — the story takes place in Texas.
A film version of the same name, written and directed by Shores, was released in 2000. Next came “Sordid Lives: The TV Series,” which was a prequel and lasted one season on Logo despite critical acclaim.
The film’s sequel, “A Very Sordid Wedding” has recently finished filming, and where the original dealt with coming out in a conservative culture, this one will deal with what marriage equality can look like in that same environment.
Shores also went back and once again rewrote the play that started it all into a brand new version, which will come to Charlotte for a three-night run, Oct. 13-15, presented by Different Roads Home and Theatre Charlotte.
Ann Walker reprises her role as LaVonda DuPree, a free spirit willing to tell it like it is. Shores wrote the part with Walker in mind, basing it loosely on her.
“It keeps rising. It keeps coming back, all the time,” Walker said of “Sordid Lives.”
She said she figured when the play ended its original year-long run that that would be the end of it.
“It’s been such a great ride. Especially when you don’t know that anything’s going to come from it,” she reflected. “And then it became this cottage industry.”
Walker also had no idea that it would affect people in the way that it has, describing a time when a young man was so excited to see her that he dropped to his knees and started crying.
“It’s the strangest thing, because the show has touched so many people’s lives. They’ve used it to come out to their families,” she said. “It’s a very emotional thing.”
Walker has appeared in dozens of roles on stage, as well as in films and on television, but she remains best known for her role as LaVonda DuPree, a fact she embraces.
She met Shores when he came to see her in a play called “Best Wishes,” and was impressed with her performance. Walker had seen Shores’ first play, “Cheatin,’” and was a fan of his as well. They agreed that they should try to work together someday.
He asked her to understudy in his new play, which at first she was reluctant to do, telling him, “Dear, I don’t do understudy.”
When Walker learned that the actress she would understudy would be gone for two weeks, allowing her to go on, she decided to go ahead and do it after all.
She said somewhere around six months to a year later she got a call from Shores asking her to come in and read a one act he had written, along with a few other actresses, so he could hear it and see if he was on the right track.
“And it was the first scene, which he called ‘Nicotine Fit,’ from ‘Sordid Lives,’ and he said, ‘I wrote this for you,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘Oh my God!’ So you never know, you know? But you just stay friends.’”
The two have remained close. Walker also appeared in Shores’ play “Southern Baptist Sissies,” about four boys growing up gay in the Southern Baptist Church, for which she earned several awards, including the prestigious Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award. She also reprised her role, as Odette Annette Barnett, in the film version released in 2013.
Shores was among those who helped fund the play “Ballad,” in which she plays an alcoholic mother whose son returns home and reveals to her that he has AIDS. Walker and playwright Tyler Hansen produced the play themselves.
Walker has become a fierce advocate for the LGBT community, both in her personal life and on her radio show, “The Ann Walker Show with Scott Nevins.” It is part of the Universal Broadcasting Network, an internet radio station she helped found four years ago.
She didn’t know any gay people growing up in Houston, Texas but became an ally once that changed and she became more intimately aware of the difficult situation faced by the community, politically and socially.
“I didn’t even know what a homosexual was until I was about 17,” she said.
She credits the influence of Del Shores coming into her life as a pivotal moment in her growing awareness of the needs and issues of the LGBT community.
“I just wasn’t around [the difficulties being faced by the community], it wasn’t in my face or touching my life,” she said, noting that she was busy raising a family and working on her career at the same time. “And I think that’s what happens sometimes. Then when it did impact my life, seeing the need and knowing how they’re being treated, I became this sort of rabid person about love and acceptance.”
Her response to the need included demonstrating for issues such as marriage equality and volunteering at Project Angel Food, a non-profit serving those battling critical illness in Los Angeles County.
Walker and Shores were in Charlotte last year for Pride, attending a Different Roads Home “Sordid Lives” viewing party and appearing at their booth during the festival. She said she looks forward to returning to the city to perform.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit differentroadshome.org.