Southern Baptist Sissies
Theatre on the Square
Directed by Ron Spencer
Through Feb. 25
Robert Webster, William Skaggs, Thomas Turner and Dannon Crews play the four "sissies" growing up in the Calvary Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, in Del Shores' 'Southern Baptist Sissies' at Theatre on the Square.
A harshly realistic look at life for gay people inside the Southern Baptist Church, Southern Baptist Sissies is redemption for Theatre on the Square's production of Worzel Gummidge. The combination of a great script (by Del Shores, Sordid Lives), a fantastic cast and Ron Spencer's tight direction make this one of the best shows ever put up by TOTS.
It follows four boys who grow up in Texas as members of a Southern Baptist Church. All four are gay, and all four react to the fact differently. Benny (Thomas Turner) becomes a drag queen; Andrew (Dannon Crews) tentatively explores his sexuality; Mark (Robert Webster) questions the church's legitimacy; and T.J. (William Skaggs) renounces his homosexuality. The subplot sees two barflies, Leroy (Spencer) and Odette (Juli Inskeep), hanging out in a gay dance bar - their purpose, once revealed, mirrors the main plot's punch: the damage of a religion that preaches intolerance and self-hatred.
The repercussions of this kind of religion are seen throughout the boys' trek from pre-adolescence to adulthood: the pain, the doubt, the self-loathing, the confusion. Even Benny, who embraces who he is, has split seconds of fear: Will the Rapture come and he be left behind?
The script weaves together the characters' stories and inserts Bible passages that support, contradict and call into question the fundamentalists' teachings against homosexuality. However, anyone with a soul will see this show and feel compassion for these boys turned men - not the need to Bible bash them into denial.
The cast, headed up by Webster, who also acts as narrator, captures the anguish of growing up Southern Baptist and gay, as well as the inherent humor that can be gleaned from such a situation. Singling anyone out for specific kudos would be repetitious, because everyone is in top form here, from the subtle reactions of church pianist Scott McKenzie to the multi-mom Janet Ransdell to the Jerry Falwell-esque preacher Dan Flahive to the outrageous "female illusionist" Turner, and the rest of the guys.
Even the set was a success with multiple floors and a cross that swings down for church scenes, designed by Spencer.
I realize that for most of the people who choose to go see it, the show will be "preaching to the choir," but if others would give it a chance, I think it could open their hearts to those who pray for God to make it stop, and what they go through when He doesn't.
Southern Baptist Sissies continues through Feb. 25 at TOTS, 627 Massachusetts Ave. Tickets are $20: 685-TOTS, www.tots.org.