Southern Baptist Sissies: Film Review

Courtesy of Beard Collins Shores Productions
Although suffering from the limitations of filmed theater, this heartfelt piece delivers a powerful message

Del Shores has filmed a production of his acclaimed stage play about four young Southern men grappling with their sexuality.

The powerful message of Del ShoresSouthern Baptist Sissies has unfortunately not diminished in importance since the play received its premiere in 2000. Having been produced extensively in regional theaters throughout the country, the work about the crises of faith suffered by four gay young Baptist men has now been given a cinematic treatment, albeit of a limited kind. Shore filmed a recent Los Angeles stage production, incorporating footage shot both in front of live audiences and without. The results are technically proficient even while displaying the inherent limits of filmed theater.

Set in Texas, the story follows four boys from childhood to their early twenties as they struggle with their sexuality in varying ways. Mark (Emerson Collins), who serves as narrator, questions the Baptist church that preaches love and forgiveness while decrying homosexuality; Benny (Willam Belli) fully embraces his gayness, growing up to become a flamboyant drag queen entertainer; TJ (Luke Stratte- McClure) desperately tries to deny who he is, eventually getting married to a woman; and Andrew (Matthew Scott Montgomery), the most troubled of the group, wrestles with the conflicting demands of his faith and his sexuality with ultimately tragic results.

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Serving as a Greek chorus of sorts are the barflies Peanut (Leslie Jordan), an older gay man, and his best friend, the hard-drinking Odette (Dale Dickey), who humorously discuss their lives and comment on the proceedings during numerous sessions at a gay bar.

The piece is not entirely successful in its uneasy blending of broad humor and melodrama, but the pain and anguish suffered by the younger characters responding to the teaching of the church’s pastor (Newell Alexander) is palpably rendered. Its heartfelt emotionalism is sure to strike a chord with younger viewers, especially those struggling with similar issues themselves.

There are also many amusing moments, including a series of confessional monologues by the young men about their burgeoning sexuality. One, describing how he used to masturbate to pictures of the boy band ‘N Sync, comments, “I tried switching from Justin to Britney once, but I lost focus.”

But the chief fun comes from the veteran scene stealers Jordan and Dickey, who beautifully blend humor and pathos in their many scenes together.

Despite the staginess of the proceedings, the ensemble does an excellent job of adjusting their performances for the cameras, with the young male leads delivering sensitive, well-modulated turns that keep us fully involved in their characters’ fates.

Both because of its subject matter and its canned theater style, Southern Baptist Sissies is inevitably a niche item. But it’s destined to have a long life on home video formats, and will no doubt succeed in its mission of exposing the play to wider audiences.

Opens March 7 (Beard Collins Shores Productions)

Cast: Emerson Collins, Willam Belli, Matthew Scott Montgomery, Luke Stratte-McClure, Dale Dickey, Leslie Jordan, Newell Alexander, Rosemary Alexander, Bobbie Eakes, Ann Walker, Joe Patrick Ward

Director/screenwriter: Del Shores

Producers: Emerson Collins, Del Shores

Executive producer: Louise H. Beard

Director of photography: Nickolas Rossi

Editor: Donna Mathewson

Production designer: Jeff Robinson

Costume designer: Craig Taggart

Composer: Joe Patrick Ward

Not rated, 138 min.

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