Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Del Shores' play about four young boys who grapple with being gay and Southern Baptist at the same time drew a sold out crowd and a few tears Saturday night to the Weekend Theater.
The play juxtaposes the pulpit and a gay bar, the Rose Room. The preacher booms about hellfire and damnation (Byron Taylor does a flawless job with this role) and the four reveal how that upbringing has affected their lives.
Mark Lee Fuller (Ryan Whitfield) walks a tightrope between self-hatred and acceptance. His best friend, T.J. Brooks (Joshua Miller), is in denial and dismisses his urges as hormone fluctuations. Andrew Thomas Ford (William Moon) prays desperately for God to “just take it away.” Only Benny (Caleb Bahr) fully embraces his “sissified” tendencies.
In the Rose Room the audience meets Preston “Peanut” Leroy and Odette Annette Barnett. “Peanut” (Steve Marshall), is a self-proclaimed “tired, old queen.” Odette (Patty Miller Marshall) is a gaudy but kind-hearted alcoholic, who frequents the Rose Room because “the gays” don't judge her. While their banter and stories were hilarious, their characters remained somewhat pensive. Like the boys, “Peanut” and Odette are just searching for love and acceptance.
A good mix of humor, sarcasm and seriousness, “Sissies” delves into some of the central issues facing homosexuals living in the South. Its stereotyping Southern Baptists as bigots makes the audience ask, “Do people actually believe these things?” Such narrow characterizations as those in “Southern Baptist Sissies” could easily cross the line from serious to silly, but the cast — all of them excellent — keeps things on track.
Whitfield and Brooks even pull off a love scene convincingly, and in the end, a funeral scene moved many in the audience to tears. The cast's dedication to the message — love not hate — was evident throughout the performance.