Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
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Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« Freud's Last Session | Main | Oh, Hell! »

Southern Baptist Sissies

This isn’t the first go-round of Del Shores’s deeply personal Southern Baptist Sissies at the Ringwald; the now five-year-old company Who Wants Cake? had its first ever hit with the coming-of-age play a handful of seasons ago. Telling pieces of numerous stories simultaneously, director Joe Bailey works this complex text into a darling and woeful take on the struggle for self-acceptance in the face of religious shame, specifically with respect to the supposed sin of homosexuality. Readers should note that this reviewer did not see the original production and has no basis for comparison; on the other side of the coin, I can say with certainty that this revival undoubtedly stands alone as a fine piece of theater.

With four main characters, the play’s structure swims between and among a number of parallel narratives, past and present. The audience is first introduced to the preteen versions of Mark (Matthew Turner Shelton), TJ (Michael Lopetrone), Benny (Vince Kelley), and Andrew (Joe Plambeck) singing in their church choir, but this is in the context of a longer view; although each character will leap without hesitation into a past scene as his twelve-year-old self, the narrative voices are those of older gay men in reflection. Just as each young man approaches his faith and indoctrinating baptism at different times and with different motives, so has each grown into a different kind of adult. One felt a compulsory fervor to be saved, whereas another composed poetry about his abiding skepticism; one now performs in a gay bar in drag as various country divas, but another marries a woman and viciously cuts ties with all his childhood “sissy” friends. The level of de- and reconstruction in the script is incredible; that the flow works breezily in performance, with the help of a clearly delineated lighting scheme also by Bailey, is a credit to the production. The boys’ individual developments are further supported — or, more accurately, undermined — by the violent condemnation of Preacher (Barry Cutler) as well as the sissy-phobic hand wringing of their mothers (Connie Cowper, in three distinct but thematically similar roles).

As if there wasn’t enough going on, an apparently detached string of scenes takes place in the gay bar where adult Benny performs; set designer Bosco Du Champ gives the offset bar a dive-y feel compared with the bright, clean lines and pleats of the altar-themed main stage. The bar is almost solely the realm of Odette (Melissa Beckwith) and Peanut (Jamie Richards), whose nightly drunkenness and emerging patterns of comic-relief patter make them fantastically fun and endearing, even as their own revelatory stories minutely begin to show. Odette and Peanut also bear the brunt of Kelley’s committed costume work, to fancy trashy effect. Plambeck’s sound design is wall-to-wall religious selections, reminding the viewer of the integral role of church in the characters’ upbringing and attitudes. Wavering, ineffectual accents further reinforce the importance of “Sissies” and “Baptist” over “Southern” in this interpretation; it’s a detail that may irk some viewers, but better honest character work and no twang than the other way around.

And indeed, the performances of the four core men are each deserving of praise. The insistently happy Kelley doesn’t want anyone to imagine he cares a whit what others think of him. Lopetrone’s TJ wears his childhood confusion and denial on his sleeve, giving in to his desires and shoving them away, hurt feelings be damned. Grownup Andrew is prohibited from seeking companionship by his internalized shame, and Plambeck’s heartbreaking conflict of mortification versus longing permeates his adult character in a beautifully dramatic turn. As the primary narrator, Shelton wears his bitterness like a badge of honor, slowly coming around to the roughly won justification for his closed-off scorn.

The stuffed storytelling of Southern Baptist Sissies may well be a sign that Shores wanted to avoid the suggestion that a single growing-up-gay tale is one size fits all. This production honors such an intention by presenting characters whose growth is unique to them, without a prescribed right way to discover, behave, or react. Despite some devastating subject matter, this play has a genuine celebratory air that pushes the viewer to love life and self, without being condescendingly feel-good in its message of acceptance.

Southern Baptist Sissies is no longer playing.
For the latest from the Ringwald Theatre (formerly Who Wants Cake?), click here.