Southern Baptist Sissies
Above The Stag,
Friday 10th March 2017
Here’s another jolly, smart, very well produced show from the gay-orientated fringe theatre that really knows how to please its core audience, and also appeal to friendly visitors. We find ourselves in the nether reaches of Dallas, Texas, where a quartet of young men (ranging from pale Hugh O’Donnell, to Asian James Phoon, to jock Daniel Klemmens, to political firebrand on a mission to transform the world with his mind, Jason Kirk… and guess who that’s supposed to be?). Around them oscillate a supporting cast of preachers like Stephen Parker, mothers like Janet Prince, bar flies like Don Cotter, fag hags like Julie Ross and an omnipresent keyboards player Simon David, who furnishes some of the most adept ‘underscore’ in town right now. Del Shores, the writer, puts it all together with energy and some imagination, and lots of passionate commitment.
The story, such as it is, concerns the rinsed-in-the-blood-of-the-lamb growing pains of this quartet of ordinary Joes, with extraordinary predilections. Each one in turn exhumes from his dressing up box some escapade or scrape from his coming-of-gay-age past, and we – the eager, attentive audience – are treated to everything from a mildly titivating striptease to a fairly wonderful Tina Turner impersonation. Meanwhile, the voices of experience, perched on barstools in the corner, comment like a cross between a Greek chorus and those two old guys who used to watch from a theatre box in The Muppet Show. There’s lots of gentle humour, gentle pathos, gentle social critique, and a gently uplifting ‘message’ to go away with at the end.
Along the way, stylistically, the show takes us much further. We get everything from a ‘Book of Mormon’ pastiche, to a lugubrious Tennessee Williams Southern Gothic melodrama, to a perky varsity skit, to hectoring lectures on religion from the ‘pro’ and ‘contra’ side. (This is probably one show where you really do want to sport a badge saying, ‘I Support The Contras’). The anti-religion party is younger, fitter, better looking, and definitely wears tighter fitting clothes. In fact, the play – if that’s what it really is – is much more like a wander through a Mall, where each successive scene is rather like a different shop front, which, for a few minutes as you stroll by, offers a display of its special and unique goods for sale. If the whole of this adds up to much for you, then so much the better. If it doesn’t, then you have simply gained a fascinating spectacle of Scenes from a Dallas Baptist Youth.
The physical execution of all this is done with aplomb, Gene David Kirk directs with intelligence and economy, moving fluidly through the tale with ease. The stage design by David Shields is elegant and extremely well crafted, offering the feel of the highest quality theatre. Chris Withers lights with precision and flair, making different spaces appear and fade into others with complete mastery. There is occasional movement from the versatile Anthony Whiteman: his staging of the speciality numbers is perfect.
This might not be the most original or finely crafted drama, but its heart remains steadfastly in the right place, and its call for a more humane and liberal society, particularly in the USA, is not likely to go out of date in a hurry. It’s another fine feather in the cap of this enterprising venue, and an encouraging sign that as it looks forward into a new era of expansion and consolidation, it is taking its audience on a memorable and well-appointed ride through serious as well as fun material. In the bar afterwards, theatre supporters Su Pollard and Lord Cashman were amongst those handing out the goodies. Who could ask for anything more?