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Southern Baptist Sissies

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Del Shores has made his mark as a Los Angeles playwright and director. His latest drama, Yellow, is playing to sold-out houses at West Hollywood's Celebration Theatre. But in 1996--a year after Shores' own sexual "coming out"--he penned a controversial character-centered "dramady." In 2000, Shores staged that show at the cozy Zephyr Theatre; in L.A. It was called Southern Baptist Sissies and it went on to receive multiple awards and honors. The L.A. Times called Sissies "daring, heroic...No holds-barred hilarious."

Now Sissies is making a timely debut in The OC. Though this staging--at Theatre Out in Santa Ana--is more somber than the earlier L.A. showing, it remains a heartrending coming-of-age tale centered on four young men growing up as members of a Southern Baptist congregation in Texas. We witness their struggles with fundamental religious dictates, as well as the sometimes rude awakenings to their sexuality. Torn between personal lust and the many musts of Baptist doctrine we sense the palpable drama inherent in this often comical scenario. While behavior may be a choice, Shores makes it clear that sexual orientation is innate. After all, who would wish to suffer the slings and arrows of being gay in a homophobic society?

Under Christopher Diehl's crisp direction , it's apparent that Mark (a callow Justin Hambey) abhors the bind in which he finds himself. He "loves" TJ (the intense Michael Rachlis), and TJ is willing to play along (literally). But TJ's denial is another huge impediment to their relationship. Steeped in guilt and biblical dogma, TJ rejects his past indiscretions, and that then threatens Mark. Meanwhile, fellow congregants Andrew (an innocent looking Paul Anderson) and Benny (the riotous Tito Ortiz) find disparate means of wrestling their demons and desires. Benny lets it all hang out as a drag-queen and female impersonator (Ortiz does a bouncy Dolly Parton impression). Andrew, however, takes a different, more introverted and, ultimately, more tragic tack.

On a stage divided into three sections (David C. Carnevale, production design)we see the chapel (center), a cocktail lounge (stage left) and a home living area (stage right). In the lounge, we meet barfly Odette Annette Barnett (convincingly embodied by Lori Kelley) and her new found drinking partner, Preston "Peanut" LeRoy (a humorously lascivious Stan Johnson). As fallen Baptist themselves, Odette and Peanut provide a running commentary on their community as well as their own personal foibles.

In portraying the fire and brimstone preaching (marvelously done by Delfin Lopez) and the parental angst (well incarnated by Roxie Lee in a chameleon's turn as various mothers to all four boys), we get the socio-psychological dimensions of this troubling situation (underscored by Richard De Vicariis' quasi-ecclesiastical piano playing). In Southern Baptist Sissies we are led to consider that in this land of the free there is often a hefty toll taken for being one's self.

Southern Baptist Sissies, is produced by Theatre Out at the Empire Theatre--202 North Broadway, Santa Ana. Show times are at 8 p.m. Thursday thru Saturday. Matinees are on Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, dial (714)826 - 8700. For online ticketing, visit www.patronstheatreout.com. This show is for mature audiences only.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.