BWW Review: SOUTHERN BAPTIST SISSIES are Coming Out with Pride at Theatre Downtown
There is no grey area in the meaning of the title "Southern Baptist Sissies". This emotional play addresses the turmoil faced when coming out in the shadow of religion. Dell Shores has written a string of thought provoking plays (The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife","Sordid Lives","Daddy's Dyin' ... Who's Got the Will") Theatre Downtown is known in Birmingham for doing shows that challenge what people think and feel. "Sissies"is such a show. This is a GLAAD Award-winning play about four young gay men growing up struggling with homophobia, hatred and smothering religious condemnation. The boys bond together in a southern Baptist church in Texas. They each come to terms with their adolescent homosexuality while seeking acceptance along with love.
Mark (Seth Burgess) serves as a kind of narrator of the play. Mark is a snarky young man at challenging the religious dogma he has been brought up on. Mark's budding feelings bring a rush of emotions. TJ (Jared Funderburg) is Mark's best friend since childhood. He is the poster boy of a model vacation bible school student. As they get older he struggles with the evolving feeling between them. The bible verses he memorizes cannot stop how mesmerized he is with Mark. Benny (Mark Nelson) is the full-blown drag queen diva of the bunch. He embraces his fabulousness and makes no apologies to anyone. Andrew (Chance Novalis) is a young man struggling to find his footing. He's troubled with processing his sexuality, conflicting feelings and his faith. He's a hot mess trying to be everything to everyone but himself.
The cast is filled with a solid and gifted ensemble of actors. The two hard drinking barflies are Peanut (Scott Nesmith), a salty older gay man, and Odette (Holly Dikeman), a trashy but classy hussie. The talented Penny Thomas plays each of the boy's mothers with heart and panache. Preacher (David Coker) gives life to the fire and brimstone pastor heavy with biblical judgment. Pianist Eamon Griffith plays Brother Chaffey/Houston.
Daniel Martin directs the cast with an effective touch of honesty and sincerity. It's not fast paced and that's good. Martin gives respect and time to let the characters grow on the audience. The play is mix of sassy humor and deep emotions. This is not easy to stage but Martin delivers.
The performance does not come off preachy. On the contrary the expressive cast are relatable and feel like your own family. I was curious to learn why they each auditioned for their roles. Mark Nelson says, "I watched the film version and found myself relating to a lot of the characters in my own personal experience. The show has a really nice balance of the humor and drama. That really drew me." Jared Funderburg who has done many shows requiring nudity says jokingly "There was a call for actors who were willing to take their clothes off on stage, and I have a reputation around town for doing that. Every single member of the cast is so talented and they hit you right in the feels." Holly Dikeman chimed in saying, "It's a beautiful show and I cry at the end every night." I ask why and she replies sweetly, "It brings a sense of hope". The show gives you pause to think and feel. There is hope found in "Southern Baptist Sissies" Come feel for yourself.
***This play contains adult situations, salty language, some nudity and tons of gay and religious humor. This is Dell Shores yall not Gilbert and Sullivan. ***
Theatre Downtown Presents
Southern Baptist Sissies by Dell Shores
Directed by Daniel Martin
July 27-Aug. 12, 2017 Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Theatre Downtown (inside 5th Ave Antiques)
2410 5th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35233
Tickets - $20
For tickets and info call (205) 565-8838 or visit theatredowntown.org
* - Photo Credit - Steven Ross