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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Southern Baptist Sissies is a Heartrending Comedy/Drama With an Outstanding Ensemble

Also see Richard's reviews of Into the Woods
and Communicating Doors

Southern Baptist Sissies
Richard Ryan & J. R. Orlando
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is currently presenting the Northern California premiere of Del Shore's comedy/drama Southern Baptist Sissies in their large theatre. The production has an outstanding ensemble of players with expert timing under the helm of director Clay David. The drama/comedy played to full houses at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles for almost a year. It also caused waves in Dallas and Chicago engagements. Lee Spindle Frontiers News Magazine called it " an irreverent, butt kicking, Southern fried humor play with dark undercurrents."

Playwright Del Shore is best most known for his series of Texas comedies and this play is his fifth installment. Born and raised in the Lone Star state, he is the son of a Southern Baptist preacher and has a brother who is a preacher. Shore was inspired to write this play after the Matthew Shepard murder. The playwright is also noted for his cult film Sordid Lives which has played off and on at the famed Camelot Theatre, Palm Springs for the past several years. His Daddy's Dying has been produced in over 800 theatres worldwide and was made into a feature film that shows up occasionally on HBO.

Southern Baptist Sissies is cathartic as well as being comical. It combines a "good old down home" farcical comedy with sparkling lines in the first act with a more serious soul-searching drama in the second part of this 2 hour, 20 minute production. The play investigates the enormous fear and guilt suffered by four clean cut, white teenage boys whose lives are centered around the church when they discover that there are raging hormones that are sometimes "unnatural" and an abomination to their reactionary church and traditional family life.

Mark (Scott Cox) serves as narrator as the play follows his life and that of three Baptist choir singing boyhood friends: T.J. (David Kirkpatrick), an all American straight shooting Christian loving person, Andrew (Elias Escobedo), who is confused about his sexuality (loves to cut out photos of men in underwear out of Sears catalogs) and Benny (Patrick O. Sanchez) who seems to lean toward feminine pursuits rather then the mainly sports of small town Texas. We follow their lives as they attempt to justify their own lifestyles with an embedded love of church and family.

Two wonderful inebriated characters, Peanut (Richard Ryan) and Odette (JeannieRae Orlando), act as a Greek chorus to the events in the play. Their embittered views of life while hanging out nightly in the piano bar of a gay club are both hilarious and sad since both are losers. Peanut is overweight and extremely effeminate and he must pay a hustler for sex while Odette is a "fag hag" and a boozer. She boasts about her fantasy sex life with men, saying "If my bed could talk, it would not shut its mouth" while Peanut says he is a social drinker. He says, "I'm a social drinker. If you drink "so shall I." Their scenes are uproarious with some of the cleverest lines in the play.

Scott Cox (popular NCTC actor) gives a very good performance as the very sarcastic Mark. He presents to the audience in a monologue voice passages from the same area of the bible that include impossible to take passages, such as one that says it is forbidden to eat certain forms of sealife like shrimp. He also gives a heartrending performance when his first love toward straight arrow T.J. is crushed. David Kirtpatrick (Last Sunday in June and Salam Shalom) gives an affecting interpretation as T.J. who decides to push under his homosexual urges for the protection and sanctuary of living a heterosexual life with the church's blessings.

Elias Escobedo projects immense sadness as the confused Andrew. Even when he visits a gay disco club, he expresses monumental guilt for being with one of the dancers. Patrick O. Sanchez turns in the most invigorating performance of the evening as Benny. He is thoroughly outrageous, practicing drag routines to the audience. He is completely unapologetic as "a queen from birth." and wonderful when he transfroms himself into Iona Traylor as a "country diva" entertainer. He gets the audience in a hand clapping mood.

J.R.Orlando as Odette and Richard Ryan as Peanut are brilliant together. Orlando portrays the perfect "fag hag." In one of her more drunken stupors, she calls her partner "Walnut." They portray a bittersweet air about themselves as they watch life passing them by.

Rich Dymer as the fire and brimstone preacher is wonderfully animated when preaching the gospel. He has a dynamo voice chastising the sinners who go against God's law. Catherine Roloff rounds out the superb cast as the mothers, playing a sympathetic role in each part.

Southern Baptist Sissies is graced with a chorus of rousing Christian songs like I used to hear in southern Ohio revivalist churches. Singers Kathie Goldie, Millie Holiday, Antoinette Milano, Geneva "Genny" Payne and Vicki Zabarte all move the spirit and you want to say "Amen" or "Hallelujah."

Director Clay David gives a fluid and energetic staging of Del Shore's controversial work. Set designer Nancy Mancias has provided an excellent set which is churchlike in appearance with a large "stained glass" window as the back set and church pews in front of the window. The pews are used for various scenes and a cocktail table set off to the left is perfect for the two Greek chorus members. The stage is cleared several times to reflect a disco club scene with flashing colored lights.

Eric Cole is also very good on the piano.

Southern Baptist Sissies runs through July 11 at the Decker Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness at Market, San Francisco. For tickets call there box office 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org

George Furth's workshop musical opens on May 21 and runs through June 26.


Photo: Lois Tema


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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