Southern Baptist Sissies
Review by Stephen Radosh
SOUTHERN BAPTIST SISSIES by Del Shores is a story that will touch everyone and will especially resonate with any member of the LGBT community who was brought up in a very religious environment. It raises some serious questions, such as how a religion which preaches to ‘love thy neighbor’ can also preach hatred and intolerance of anyone who does not conform to its ideas of the norm.
The play centers on 4 youngsters, all from deeply religious Baptist families, and how each of them as they become young adults deals with and wrestles with their own sense of self versus the teachings of their church.
T.J. , played by Cody Frank, refuses to admit to himself that he is gay and becomes determined to live the ‘righteous’ life that is expected of him complete with a wife and children. We see the inner struggle and deep-seated anger that his decision brings him.
Ben Heustess, giving a funny and touching performance, plays Ben. He is the first to totally accept his homosexuality and abandon the stifling teachings of his church. He becomes a drag performer with the deliriously funny name of Iona Traylor and is, at least on the surface, the happiest of the four central characters.
Andrew, played by German Pavon, is torn between two worlds. He knows he is gay and yearns to be with, quite literally, the man of his dreams. He also wants to be a good Baptist and go to heaven which, his preacher (a solid performance by Larry Dyekman) assures his flock will not happen for anyone who is an abomination.
Giving the strongest performance of this very good cast is Joseph Tanner Paul as the fourth of the young men, Mark. He is the narrator of this story from his past and in many ways is also the voice of the author who grew up under similar circumstances. Mr. Paul lets us see every moment of his development from being a good Baptist youth to raising questions about his faith and ultimately breaking from the suppression of such strict religious doctrine.
Punctuating the scenes of the four boys is a subplot involving two barflies, Odette (Linda Cooke) and Peanut (Hal O’Connell). Delivering some of the funniest lines in the play, they serve as not only comic relief from the intensity of the central story but give a perspective of gay life from an older generation’s point of view.
Rounding out the cast are Miss Joey English and Douglas Wilson. English plays the mother of three of the boys (the 4th one is deceased), each dealing differently with the reality of having a gay son but all leaning on the church for guidance. Douglas Wilson has the dual roles of Brother Chaffey and Houston, the former is the church organist while the latter plays piano in a gay bar.
Although the play can feel a bit didactic and melodramatic at times, it does ultimately hit home and delivers a powerful message about the need to love and accept oneself in this world. If you appreciate plays that have something meaningful to say, then this production of SOUTHERN BAPTIST SISSIES, which runs through April 9th at the Desert Rose Playhouse, should be on your must-see list.