BWW Preview: DEAR ANITA BRYANT at Desert Rose

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BWW Preview: DEAR ANITA BRYANT at Desert Rose

DEAR ANITA BRYANT, a Readers Theatre stage play by activist and author Dr. Ronni Sanlo, coming for one show only on April 7, 2019 to the Desert Rose Playhouse, is not about Florida orange juice, despite Anita Bryant's former status as the spokesperson for that product.

Professor Sanlo's life as a gay activist who is the daughter of a Jewish US soldier who helped liberate Dachau, couldn't be any more different from that of Anita Bryant, an evangelical Christian best known for her orange juice role until she launched a crusade against homosexuality. Yet their lives intersected in two important ways: they were both young mothers in Florida during the 1970's, and Anita Bryant's efforts to delegitimize the growing gay rights movement resulted in heartbreak for Professor Sanlo.

When the playwright was a young Floridian in 1979, she came out as lesbian. Overnight, in the eyes of the state of Florida, she went from a loving mother to an unfit parent; Florida had passed a statute the year before denying child custody to gay people, a circumstance which probably came about at least in part because of Anita Bryant's crusade to deny rights to gay Floridians. As a result of the new law, Professor Sanlo lost custody of her two young children.

BWW Preview: DEAR ANITA BRYANT at Desert Rose
Dr. Ronni Sanlo

Until Ms. Bryant got into the picture, part of Florida was moving in the opposite direction -- Miami had passed an ordinance barring discrimination against gay people, causing Ms. Bryant to start her campaign in 1977 to repeal it. By the time Bryant finished her efforts, which she eventually took nationwide, Anita Bryant was known far less for her enthusiastic support of orange juice ("Come to the Florida sunshine tree...") and her middling singing career than for her meddling to abort the nascent gay equality movement.

After she lost the right to raise her children, Professor Sanlo used her sudden, unwanted status as a noncustodial parent to further her education. She became a distinguished educator, playwright, and activist and wrote a memoir about being a lesbian bubbe (i.e., a Jewish grandmother). Eventually, Dr. Sanlo wrote a letter to Anita Bryant, which resulted in the 2014 documentary, LETTER TO ANITA, starring Meredith Baxter, and this play.

BWW Preview: DEAR ANITA BRYANT at Desert Rose
The cover of one of Dr. Sanlo's books

DEAR ANITA BRYANT, both dramatic and humorous, shares the challenges of pain and the power of forgiveness as it tells the stories of LGBT history from the period of the AIDS crisis to the present. According to the playwright, DEAR ANITA BRYANT is a "memoir, a true story with a wide arc and an extremely relevant anchor," which "makes the viewer ache, despair and rejoice and ache again," and eventually brings the audience to "a place of forgiveness."

The performance will take place on Sunday, April 8, 2019, at 7 p.m. at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Hwy 111, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270. Doors open at 6:30pm. Tickets are $25, including a Q&A and an after show reception with playwright Dr. Ronni Sanlo and the cast. Tickets can be purchased through

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From This Author Audrey Liebross