Of saints and 'sissies'

Sometime between high-school graduation and my sophomore year of college I got an unforeseen call from an old friend. We had attended school — a Baptist school — together since the 7th grade. During our senior year, he started keeping me at arms-length. Like many of my classmates, he made fun of me.

When he called that day he was crying. He was sorry, he said, that he had been unkind. He was going through a lot at the time. “I’m gay,” he told me.

Well, I knew that. Or, at least, I sort of figured. Inside, I was hurt that he imagined that would change our friendship, but then, if I had sort of figured, why didn’t I talk to him about it when he began pushing me away? Why didn’t I tell him I accepted him, all of him, and that he didn’t have to anticipate judgment from me?

The answer is because I couldn’t have possibly imagined, at that stage of my young, naïve life, what kind of anguish he was going through.

It’s the kind of anguish Queer as Folk writer Del Shores makes manifest in Southern Baptist Sissies, his 2000 play about four gay young men who’ve grown up in the Baptist church, loving Jesus (some more than others), loving the community of the church — but finding themselves at odds with it. Finding themselves, even, but once in a while, in fear of damnation, in fear of being “left behind,” years after they’ve left the Baptist community.

“You can never really leave Berlin,” Lena Brandt offered in The Good German. The same feels true of the Southern Baptist Church.

Southern Baptist Sissies
8pm curtain Fri-Sat
Through August 18
$25 + tax show only, $44.95 + tax dinner and show
The Church Bistro and Theatre
1150 South Alamo

Mark (Roy Thomas) is our guide through Sissies’ space and time, an idealist whose greatest desire is to bring understanding to the world — yes, even to the Baptists. Benny (Rick Sanchez), Mark’s cynical foil — what rejects him, he rejects back, simple as that — has grown up to be Iona Traylor, an absolutely fabulous drag performer specializing in country music. Andrew (Chris Rodriguez), the most childlike of the bunch, begs for Jesus to take his carnal desires away, to no avail.

The fourth young man is T.J. (Edward Gallardo), Mark’s erstwhile love, who forces his sexual orientation to match his strict spiritual beliefs. After participating in what sounds like an Exodus International type of program, T.J.’s fit not only for a nice Baylor coed, but to deliver messages from podiums, testifying that God is speaking through him. Not until Sissies did it occur to me what an egomaniacal statement that can be.

Every so often, Sissies turns us over to the antics of Peanut and Odette, a pair of tragicomic barflies who really should be a play unto themselves (especially with Don Frame and Annelle Keys starring; they’re brilliant), but the two supply most of the play’s laughs, and believe me, you’re going to want those laughs to cut through the tears.

Despite successful comic and dramatic moments in the Church’s production, the play’s choppy structure is frustrating, transitions are strained, and Shores’s heavy-handed repetition (and unnecessary subplots) ultimately makes Southern Baptist Sissies overly long. It feels as though Shores finished the play and then couldn’t help picking it back up again — a few times over. But then, reigning in one’s passion isn’t always easy, nor is it always right.


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