Queen City Theatre Company at Spirit Square. But I can't help feeling it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "preaching to the choir."
The show is by Del Shores, who also wrote the campy Sordid Lives. But while Sordid Lives felt more intentionally outlandish and over the top, for me this play hit a little closer to home. These weren't just characters. They were the people I grew up with.
Set in a Texas church, Southern Baptist Sissies is the tale of four "sissy" boys who sing together in the choir. Early on, they all realize something makes them different. And, as the narrator, Mark, points out, in a congregation of about 40 youth, "statistically, it worked out just about right."
Mark struggles with the way his heartfelt desires conflict with what he hears at church about sin, temptation and repentance. Andrew is the first one to "get saved." T.J. fights his urges and ends up "happily married" to a Baylor belle. Benny is the most flamboyant of the four, a future drag queen whose sexuality was never in question:
Yeah, precious, with me you took one look and you knew! I would make even Jerry Falwell question that "choice" shit. That is, if he cared enough to really get to know me. If he did, his whole world would come tumblin' down like the walls of fuckin' Jericho. Then he'd have to deal with his own true nature, if you know what I mean. Ever hear, "thee protests too much, Tinky Winky?!!!"
It's an in-your-face show from the moment it opens with the boys singing the chorus of that Baptist classic, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I'll Be There. Narrator Mark bursts forth to finish the hymn: "Unless you're a fag!"
The play's dialogue--particularly Mark's lines--underlines the hypocrisy of their preacher's insistence that "these urges" are something to be surmounted, not succumbed to.
Preacher: God gave us the freedom of choice!"
Mark: Really? Well I choose to go to hell! I choose to gnash my teeth! Wouldn't you? I mean, it's so logical.
My favorite scene came at the end of the first act, when a drag queen angel sings a country song asking how something can be so wrong but feel so right. As one of the characters kneels in prayer, the preacher in his black suit stands over one shoulder, the flamboyant angel in white on the other. The ironic message about good and evil was clear. But the relative subtlety of that scene was appealing compared to the too-long second act, with its overwrought ending that, unfortunately, left some inconsiderate members of the audience snickering, not sniffling.
To be sure, much of the play is meant to draw laughs, and it does. But as a Christian, I couldn't help watching it and feeling really sad about the truths it so harshly depicts. I thought of some of my dearest friends who would relate all too well to this play, people whose acceptance of their homosexuality coincided with their departure from organized religion. And my heart hurt to realize that for too many people in this world, church is a place of judgment, criticism and pain.
When it comes down to it, I really don't care what it says in Leviticus or Romans or anywhere else, the simple truth for me is this: God is love. And God's plan for all of us is about loving others, accepting ourselves as He made us, and letting our light shine. It's a plan of goodness and wholeness, not a plan of sadness and brokenness.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Although the show was sold out, I wondered how many of us were there to experience something we didn't already know. I'm pretty sure the people who really need to hear the show's message weren't in the audience last night. But I think you could find most of them on their pews this morning.
P.S. If you're curious, you can actually read some more chunks from the play here.