Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see John's review of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Camposition presents the new comedy, 1,000 Homosexuals, by Michael Yawney at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. 1,000 homosexuals tells the story of Anita Bryant's 1977 crusade against gay rights. The play is a comedic, fantasy documentary presenting Anita as a musical Joan of Arc in a twisted carnival of '70s-style sex and faith.
Born in 1940, Anita Bryant was a Miss Oklahoma in 1958, and first runner-up to Miss America in 1959. She went on to have a successful career as a singer, placing a total of eleven songs in the top 100 of the pop music chart. Her biggest hits were "Till There Was You," "Paper Roses" and "In My Little Corner of the World." In 1969 she became a spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission, and nationally televised commercials featured her singing "Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree" and stating the commercials' tag line: "Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine." She also did advertisements for Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Holiday Inn, and Tupperware.
After the 1977 Florida passage of a gay anti-discrimination law in Dade County, Bryant said the Lord told her to organize a movement to overturn the law. The resulting organization, Save Our Children, later renamed Protect America's Children, focused on promoting the claim that homosexuals actively recruit children. Many members of her outspoken campaign demonizing homosexuality and celebrating the religious right would go on to be the founders of the "Moral Majority."
Bryant stated: "Homosexuals cannot reproduceso they must recruit ... and to freshen their ranks they must recruit the youth of America." The focus was on teachers; the implication was that gay teachers would promote their sexuality in classes. Bryant stated: "Known homosexual school teachers and their possible role-model impact ... could encourage more homosexuality by inducing pupils to look upon it as an acceptable life style." Bryant wanted all gays to stay in the closet because any "known practicing homosexual" might be a role model for some youth.
In a famous Playboy interview, Bryant went on to say that homosexuals are called "fruits" because "they eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of life. God referred to men as trees, and because the homosexuals eat the forbidden fruit, which is male sperm." Another famous Bryant quote was, "If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters." Bryant's seemingly narrow fundamentalist views, combined with quotes like these, generated public ridicule. A pie was even thrown in her face at one of her public appearances. The ridicule combined with protests by the gay community permanently harmed her career. Product endorsements disappeared, her own planned television show was canceled, concert bookings dried up, and a comeback tour failed. She now lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, and says she does charity work for various youth organizations while heading Anita Bryant Ministries International.
The telling of this tale in 1,000 Homosexuals is surprisingly fair to Anita Bryant and the people around her who led the movement to repeal the 1977 Dade County gay anti-discrimination ordinance. The writing is not meant to ridicule or praise Anita Bryant or those around her. Achieving a representation of this kind so fairly written is an admirable achievement by author Michael Yawney. The story becomes more compelling when one realizes that the imprint of this movement can still be seen today in Florida which remains a state in which it is illegal for same-sex couples to adopt, and in the results of Florida's Proposition 2 which, like California's Proposition 8, continues to ban gay marriage by defining it only as between one man and one woman.
In 1,000 Homosexuals Bryant is portrayed as a product of her time. Raised in a conservative family in the Bible belt, she held dear the values that matched that way of life. The play shows her being more of a "live and let live" Christian (a quote from a 1980 interview). We are given an Anita that says, "I love homosexuals. It's the sin of homosexuality I hate", and that it is her mission to save homosexuals by bringing them to Jesus. These are certainly more liberal than fundamentalist views, even by modern standards. The play shows her almost as a victim used by those around her for her high public profile to promote their agenda. We are even shown Anita being handed speeches she didn't write by her minister and her husband. It is as though she has been told she is either for or against all those around her, and if she is for them then she'd better be a good girl and make the speeches and public appearances promoting the anti-gay rhetoric.
The production itself has a feel that is experimental with a touch of performance art. As one enters the theatre you pass three mock public restroom stalls into which you may peer. Inside are men in the midst of lewd acts. It conjures up a leather-laced, '70s image of anonymous gay sex in bars, bathhouses, public restrooms, and rest stops. We are greeted by a perky, 12-foot-tall Anita Bryant in a white cotillion dress welcoming us with orange juice and cookies. Cheers to the cotillion dress costume which is actually designed to be worn by the actress as she sits on a lifeguard stand.
Merry Jo Cortada is tireless in an exhausting role as Anita Bryant. She is in almost every single scene portraying a character working through balancing her roles as mother, wife, Christian, entertainer and family bread-winner. Her singing voice is a little ragged for the wear in this production, but it is forgivable as a demonstration of Anita's growing fatigue with her public battle to do the right thing. She is not helped by a piano that needed to be tuned however.
The cast of men around her play numerous roles. The staging/dancing is designed and executed for effect rather than beauty or technique. The show is about the impact. Admittedly, one may balk at such oddities as talking penises, wagging dildos, and men engaged in mock sexual acts throughout the entire show. It is perhaps these images that plagued the psyche of people such as Miss Bryant, however, as they wondered what the gay world of sex was like. However odd the experiential nature of the show, the subject matter is worthy and the script itself sound.
The production company, Camposition Inc., is an iconoclastic arts organization dedicated to new works that push the boundary between performances and activism. Camposition creates subversive entertainment intended to challenge both artists and audiences with new ways of seeing, representing and responding to contemporary life. Founded in 2006 as a 501C3 non-profit organization, Camposition has produced over 40 performances. Camposition's Resident Dramaturge is playwright Michael Yawney. In addition to the play 1,000 Homosexuals, he has written for Theater Week, Out Traveler, and Playgirl. His book Gay Astrology has recently been translated into Hungarian. For more information on this production company please visit www.camposition.org.
1,000 Homosexuals was developed in residency with new York Stage and Film, and commissioned by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through a project supported by a grant from the GLBT Community Projects Fund at Dade Community Foundation. Greater Miami's permanent endowment is made possible by funding with support from the Miami-Dade County Tourist Development Council, the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade Mayor and Board of County Commissioners, and is generously underwritten by James G. pepper and Steven Santiago, M.D.. For more information on the show please visit www.1000homosexuals.com.
1,000 Homosexuals appeared November 20th - 23rd, 2008 at the Adrienne Arsht Center For The Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami, FL. For information or to purchase tickets for the many diverse offering of the Arsht Center, you may contact them at 305-949-6072, or visit them at www.arschtcenter.org.
*Denotes a members of Actor's Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.