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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

In June 1969, the Stonewall riots took place, marking a seminal moment in the gay-rights movement—and the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus has joined forces with other LGBT choruses across the country to mark the occasion in a big way.

The chorus will conclude its season with Quiet No More–A Choral Celebration of Stonewall with shows Friday through Sunday, April 26-28. During a recent phone interview with Douglas Wilson, the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus’ artistic director, he explained the highlight of these concerts.

“It’s a new masterwork that was commissioned by 20 choruses in the United States, and it was composed by six different composers who each wrote a different movement—and it’s a big production,” Wilson said. “The whole piece is in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the moment that really started the gay pride movement. The first four movements focus on that night and what happened later that night. The next movements talk about where we’re going now that we have marriage equality and gay people running for office. What are we doing now? What’s next? What can we do to keep this going?”

The PSGMC shows will mark the West Coast premiere of the new piece.

“This one has a big social message,” Wilson said. “This is when the piece was ready, and it was commissioned so the New York Gay Men’s Chorus could do it on the anniversary of Stonewall on June 27.”

The piece has not been an easy one for chorus members to learn—although they’ve been happy to do so.

“This was very interesting to work on. Our rehearsal time took much longer than we thought it would,” Wilson said. “There’s some very difficult rhythms and some parts that take a while to get used to.”

The rest of the show will be dedicated to songs about fights for equal rights—and Wilson promised the show would be uplifting rather than depressing.

“We don’t want to do something that will leave our audience depressed and feeling like we’ve drilled gay rights into them. The piece ends on a very positive note: Go out and vote; go out and run for office; go out and do all these different things, and the world will be a better place,” he said.

“The second part of the program, we’re doing different songs that are connected with different protest movements over the years. We’re doing suffragette songs; we’re doing civil rights songs; we’re doing songs of the United Farm Workers; and, of course, we end up with a couple of gay songs. We’re looking at all of these people struggling for their freedom and getting their freedom.”

Wilson said the chorus members are excited about the show’s message.

“I think this was really good for us. Those cover songs and those spring things that we (normally) do, they’re very fun to do, but they aren’t really challenging,” Wilson said. “It gives everybody a great sense of accomplishment. They say, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t think we could ever learn that, and we learned it and performed it.’ I think they’re feeling very positive about it.”

Would the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus take on something like this again? Wilson said yes—as long as audiences respond positively.

“We’ll see how the audience reaction is,” he said. “I hope that they’ll find it’s something they enjoyed coming and listening to. I hope they’ll want to hear more.”

The Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus will be performing Quiet No More–A Choral Celebration of Stonewall at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27; and 3 p.m., Sunday, April 28, at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25 to $50. For tickets or more information, visit www.psgmc.com.

Published in Previews

Given the hatred and divisiveness our country’s socio-political climate has stirred up, Desert Rose Playhouse’s current production, Southern Baptist Sissies, seems timelier than ever.

Del Shores’ play, which won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding L.A. Theatre Production during its original run in 2000, skillfully illustrates the painful conflict faced by homosexuals of faith who long to remain part of a church community that rejects the very essence of who they are.

The play tells the stories of four young men coming of age in Dallas. Each boy is trying to come to terms with his burgeoning homosexuality while also remaining an active member of the congregation at Calvary Baptist Church.

Mark (Joseph Tanner Paul), who also serves as the narrator, is sarcastic and bitter over the church’s narrow-mindedness about gays and its rigid rules for life—“So in God’s eyes, eating shrimp is just as bad as sucking cock.” Mark is a pivotal role, and Paul nails it. He’s a strong presence onstage—funny, acerbic and angry, yet often incredibly vulnerable.

Mark is strongly attracted to T.J. (the charismatic, well-built Cody Frank), who is in major denial about his own preference for men: “I am living a normal life with a woman—the way God intended, and I am happy!” T.J. spouts Bible verses and feigns interest in women, while brushing off a youthful sexual encounter with Mark as insignificant. Frank makes T.J.’s inner turmoil quite believable.

The sensitive, guilt-ridden Andrew (German Pavon) is the first of the quartet to accept Jesus as his personal savior. He prays fervently by day and secretly explores gay nightclubs by night. Andrew’s nightly fantasies are not of sweaty sex, but of caresses and a gentle male voice assuring him that he will always be taken care of. Pavon’s acting is quite effective; he makes the audience want to wrap him in a giant hug.

By far the boldest of the four boys is Benny (the amazing, androgynous Ben Heustess), who wholeheartedly embraces his gayness, dressing in drag and lip-syncing to Shania Twain songs with great glee. I cannot imagine anyone else playing this part. Heustess is riveting—you cannot take your eyes off him. He excels not only as a female impersonator, but also at revealing the character’s deep inner pain.

Calvary’s preacher (the perfectly cast Larry Dyekman) holds forth with typical fire and brimstone, adamant that obedience to God is always the answer.

Local favorite Joey English is effective and holds her own as the mothers of each of the four young men. She has some of the show’s best lines. When discussing her trailer-park neighbor with the preacher, she quips, “She’s Catholic, you know—just one step off from them Jee-hovah’s Witnesses.”

Throughout the play, we are treated to brief scenes at a gay-themed bar called the Rose Room. There, we watch the growing friendship between the alcoholic Odette (Linda Cooke) and the equally booze-loving Peanut (Hal O’Connell). Both have many regrets in life, and there are some serious moments—but most of their interaction is a hoot. Odette repeatedly refers to “an unfortunate incident I’d rather not discuss right now” and admits that “when you give head like me, word gets out.” Cooke and O’Connell have fabulous chemistry and provide some of the show’s biggest laughs.

Rounding out the superb cast is Douglas Wilson as both church organist Brother Chaffey and lounge-pianist Houston.

Steve Fisher’s direction deserves special mention. He brings out the best in his cast. There are some profoundly emotional moments in this production, and each actor hits just the right notes without going over the top. It’s worth noting here that there are simulated sex acts and some nudity in this play—not an unusual occurrence in Desert Rose productions. The set, lights, sound, hair and makeup (particularly Benny’s drag get-ups) are all spot on.

Desert Rose Playhouse’s production of Southern Baptist Sissies is not just a play about homosexuality and religion. It’s about the universal fear of letting others see who we really are. At one point, Mark recalls that while his mother taught him to love her, his father, Jesus and Elvis, “I guess she forgot to teach me to love myself.” What a different world this would be if we all learned that lesson early on.

But perhaps Benny sums it up best late in the play when he muses: “Maybe the world is just the way it should be. … Maybe we are ALL right … the gays, the Baptists, the Muslims, all of us.” What a different world, indeed.

Southern Baptist Sissies is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, April 9, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $32 to $35, and the running time is about 2 1/2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission. Contains nudity and adult situations. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance