Southern Baptist Sissies | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Southern Baptist Sissies

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Southern Baptist Sissies, Bailiwick Repertory. Del Shores's fifth Texas comedy, highly praised in Los Angeles when first produced in 1999, already feels anachronistic. The four adolescent friends struggling with their sexual orientation in the shadow of an unsympathetic Baptist church share stories that we've heard before--endlessly. This is two hours and fifteen minutes of coming-out angst, concerned parents, and deep guilt peppered with uninspired drag, predictable tragedy, and bland hymn singing. Shores himself is gay, but his characters (including a supporting character who is an out gay man) are so abjectly miserable once they start acting on their homosexuality that at times the play teeters into homophobia. Shores tries to pass this off as the fault of the Baptist church--the narrator, an angry gay columnist, says that church was where "we learned to hate ourselves"--but since all the churchgoing characters, including a man who denies his homosexuality, seem glowingly happy, and all those who leave the church are not, the sentiment is not convincing. Even so, director David Zak brings out some beautiful performances. Joseph E. Hudson radiates charisma and warmth as the evangelical preacher, which makes his character's condemnation of homosexuality complex and shocking. In the play's best roles, Jamie Axtell and Jane Blass milk their supporting barfly parts as an old queen and a straight floozy, and deliver some of the evening's funniest, most tender, and most human moments. One only wishes there were more of them.

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