Southern Baptist Sissies
Produced by over thirty theatre companies across the country, Del Shores’ GLAAD award winning play "Southern Baptist Sissies" continues to entertain the masses. "Southern Baptist Sissies" follows the friendships of four Christian Gay young men, growing up in the conservative deep South. Now, Shores presents a filmed version of the live stage show, releasing it in movie theaters nationwide.
Shores’ fans will see many familiar faces from his much acclaimed film and TV franchise "Sordid Lives": Leslie Jordan, Dale Dickey, Newell Alexander, Rosemary Alexander, Ann Walker, and Emerson Collins (doing double duty as the film’s co-producer and lead actor). New in the mix is Mathew Scott Montgomery (Disney Channel’s "So Random!"), Luke Stratte-McClure ("Nip/Tuck"), and Willam Belli ("RuPaul’s Drag Race").
Hands down, the highlights of "Southern Baptist Sissies" are veterans Dale Dickey and Leslie Jordan as backsliding Baptists Odette and Peanut. They are delicious together as new friends in an old gay bar, discussing their own trials and tribulations, as well as those around them. (Dickey and Jordan led a sold-out national tour of the show back in 2006.) The four main young men -- Collins, Belli, Stratte-McClure, and Montgomery -- all share a special on-stage energy, and all four possess an honest and natural fruition of their roles. Followers of Belli get to see him in a more cultivated version of his "Drag Race" persona. He’s got acting chops and is inspiring as former Baptist child-turned drag performer. (Confusingly, though, his character Benny brags that all his singing is live, but Belli lip-syncs as usual.)
Shores makes it clear that his goal was to film "Southern Baptist Sissies" in front of live audiences, with multiple cameras, and "then film additional days for close-ups and coverage to make it so the final film feels as though it was shot in one live show with fifteen cameras." Shores succeeds at this goal; however it can feel disjointed to the viewer. Many times within the film, the over-technical look at the performance is confusing. The stage blocking is not presented in the round, but Shores directs his filmed presentation from so many angles it sacrifices the impact that one would have in the audience of the live play. Even angles from the stage showing some unenthusiastic, unkempt audience members pulled me out of the action. Perhaps Shores should have just shot a scenic film version of the play, similar to what he did with "Sordid Lives." It, most likely, would’ve been much more effective and entertaining.
As a play, "Southern Baptist Sissies" raises important questions of young gay Christians who are born into a self-deprecating society, teaching them that they are sinful: What is Truth? What is true happiness? Can the true love of Christ and one’s family trump the denouncement of their homophobic religious leaders? In this filmed incarnation of his own creation, Shores misrepresents what could otherwise be a provocative piece.