Of all the things that boggle the mind, few can be more boggling than the impact that Christianity has and has had on the lives of gay men and women – and the subject is certainly on the front line just now, as the founder of Exodus International issues an apology to the world for the damage done by that organization's "reparative therapy" over the past four decades.
In light of this, it seems almost providential timing that the Kirk-Burgess production of Southern Baptist Sissies opens at Nashville's Darkhorse Theatre on July 5th – with a cast that includes two actors who are survivors of Exodus International and an artistic team whose religious histories span the spectrum from Bible Belt Pentacostal to a San Francisco upbringing in which religion and church played no part at all. As the play's narrator says, "Everybody has their truth; yours may be different than mine."
This A-list Nashville cast is led by Daniel Vincent as Mark Lee Fuller, the story's "narrator" whose presence and narrative detachment circulate through the other characters' stories. L. T. Kirk, Chuck Long, Matt Smith and Josh Stutts portray four gay men of different temperaments who must negotiate the treacherous waters of a Southern Baptist Church. Cinda McCain plays a woman whose personal mission sends her into the world of gay bars, and Danny Proctor is the preacher who prays with everyone.
In an ironic bit of double casting, Carl Goad plays both Brother Chaffy, the church pianist, and Hugo the lounge pianist – from communion to cocktails and back, so to speak.
Rusti Rae takes on the roles of three different mothers who have one thing in common – despair over their sons' homosexuality. I asked Rae if she was in agreement with her characters or, if not, how did she approach this challenge as an actor. "No, I am not in agreement with them," she responded, "but as an actor, this is what I have to do to tell the story."
The production is co-directed by Anne Geri' Fann and Justin Burgess. Fann brought the production to the company's attention because she believed that it spoke to the Kirk-Burgess mission. She discovered the script, she says, after a friend who was staying with her passed his copy of the script on to her. After reading it, she knew she wanted to direct it.
Justin Burgess—who is the Burgess in Kirk-Burgess productions—is, at 19 years old, one of those amazing young Nashville theatre artists (Nashville School of the Arts 2012) whose initiative and drive are raising the bar for theatre here in Music City. It was his desire to tackle one of the roles in the play Mysterious Skin which brought him to his production partner L.T. Kirk and resulted in the 2012 Darkhorse production which launched the company.
As the future of the theatre passes into the hands of Justin and his generation, I was curious to know why this young impresario feels that theatre is important. "Theatre breaks down borders," he says, "it brings people together and sheds light on things that some people try to shut out. It's the single most impactful way through which people can rawly communicate and share the human experience. New ideas, inspirations, and innovations can all be achieved by the team effort that is theatre."
While some shows may leave us (as we leave the theater) singing the songs and oohing and ahhing over the scenery and costumes, Southern Baptist Sissies’ audiences are going to get a taste of what the ancient Greeks believed the theatre was supposed to evoke—catharsis. If you don't know what that is, you will after you've seen this production. Straight, gay or BTIQF, you won't be quite the same.
For details about the run of Southern Baptist Sissies, visit the company website at kirkburgess.net. Reservations can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 615-942-621. Tickets are $12.00 ($10.00 for seniors) cash or check at the door.
OutCentral, Nashville's LGBTQIF Cultural Center, is Kirk-Burgess' 2013-14 Benefit Sponsor. The company will donate at least 10% of the season's proceeds to OutCentral.
photo credit Chuck Long as Peanut, Sissies’ tragically funny alcoholic queen and Cinda McCain as Odette, his boisterous barfly friend with a sad secret