Southern Baptist Sissies – Right of Gay

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Southern Baptist Sissies, Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography

A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS

Spotlights presents Southern Baptist Sissies, a play with songs (musical?) by Del Shores which, first and foremost, ickkkkk on the “in your face” title.  I get it, it’s consistent with Shores’ other works, but “sissy” is a word that gives me the worst kind of heebie jeebies.  Anyway.  The story follows four baby gays trying to find love and acceptance in Dallas, Texas while acting out their Bible Belt oppression in every manner possible.  While blatant homophobia is a theme that’s, unfortunately, timeless, the text has a decidedly grunge-era feel (it was written in 1999) and seems dated.  After the immense popularity of mega-hits like The Book of Mormon and Spring Awakening, this material is more a snooze than a shock, predictable and pretty cliché.  There’s not too much depth to this one, not really.   You know the drill: hidden handjobs, repressed crying, etc., etc.  Been there, done that, though that is definitely not to say that the performances weren’t great.  Quite the contrary; I’d say that all of the actors on stage did a superb job, so major hat tip.

Tommy Malek pours honesty as  Benny Watson (by day) and fabulous drag persona Iona Traylor (by night).  Malek’s voice is exceptional (boy can sing) and he really gets the duality, the split, in the character.  Speaking of singing; Christina Holmes, playing the archetypical “Mothers”, rocks it out with her pristine voice.  Dennis Binseel’s hyper-butch, super angsty TJ tears at his soul to understand his hidden desires.  His accent may have been a bit wonky, but his conviction is right fucking on.  Michael McKay’s Mark Lee Fuller is the leader of this gay Brat Pack and hits his emotional touchstones all right, but I found him very, very loud.  That stage is six inches square, you can’t scream like that.  I found the same issue with volume in Sadowsky’s Preacher Reilly.  The yelling must be moderated.  As a break from the denial and desire of the penis touch, we have a lovely duo of bar flies: Hawaiian shirt sporting Preston (Greg Grenier) and overly eye-shadowed Odette (Melainie Eifert).  These two provide drastically needed comic relief in an honest, dry, tired-of-life way.  They’re brilliant together, keeping me interested in a work that could easily stagnate without them.

Tech was awfully phoned in this time.  A simple paint treatment to simple benches for a high school environment.  An interesting little draw-back curtain to reveal an outdoor panorama.  Other than that, nothing of much note by set designers Alan Zemia and Fuzz Roark.  Lighting design by Al Ramer provided focus and contrast, but did not do much to convey emotion or setting.  A few times we get nineties style disco lights; that was about as motivational as it got in that department.  Costume design by “Fuzz Roark & The Cast” means that everybody brought something from home.  This works, but just barely, good thing the entire point is to focus on everyday people in everyday scenarios.

The Bottom Line:  This text of Southern Baptist Sissies is not for me.  I find it shallow and achingly obvious.  While there are moments of comedy, of tenderness, of truth, the show misses the mark both thematically and technically.  It’s close, but no cigar, baby.  Superb performances, minus some shrill screaming, do make up for some of my eye-rolls, however.  I admire that Spotlighters consistently takes on challenging work, but the message might be getting played: I think this is the third predominately male, “gay show” I’ve seen from them recently.  I like the song, but the tune could use an update.

Running at Spotlighters until March 6th.

SECOND OPINION?

http://www.baltimoreoutloud.com/lively-arts/out-on-stage/item/3821-sissies-and-sass-at-spotlighters

Email Achilles Feels at achillesfeels@gmail.com

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