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WHAT: Buffalo United Artists' "Southern Baptist Sissies"

WHEN: Continues through Dec. 5

WHERE: Main Street Cabaret, 672 Main St.

TICKETS: $12 to $20

INFO: 886-9239

Somewhere in Texas, there is a mother ashamed of her son. Somewhere in Tennessee, a boy is afraid to be -- afraid to find out -- who he really is. And somewhere in Kentucky, a preacher has the ungodly task of telling his congregants that the young man who just hanged himself now burns in hell.

The South, take it or leave it, never shies from taking its stand, speaking up for its righteous values. Maybe it's the heat.

The four young men in Del Shores' "Southern Baptist Sissies," a tragicomedy on stage in Buffalo United Artists' Main Street Cabaret, know the South all too well -- the good, the bad and the very ugly. It's their home, their safe haven, where they had sleepovers in backyard tents, made brownies for bake sales and sang in church choir.

Marc, the one with the been-there-done-that perspective on the foursome's Texas upbringing, leads us through a series of vignettes that will leave even the most cultured in our Northeast audiences perplexed.

"Is that really what its like in the South?"

His friends, Benny (Joey Bucheker), T.J. (Marc Sacco) and Andrew (Ryan David O'Byrne), each bear the load that being young, gay, Southern and Baptist impresses upon their budding minds.

Louis Colaiacovo, as Marc, is at times a Greek chorus, spewing sarcasms and diatribes to his unaware preacher. When he's not addressing us to our faces, staring us in the eyes as if the truth lied in our playbills, he's part of the action himself.

Challenging the church is not new to Marc. Ever since he first experienced homosexual urges, the result of a close friendship with T.J., the most religiously devout of the four boys, Marc, started reading between the lines of his sacred Bible. He reads that God does not love him. That God would send him to hell for being a sodomist. And that eating shrimp carries the same punishment.

It doesn't help that his mother, played so finely by Caitlin Coleman (who plays many mothers in the course of the play), sides with her Bible and not with her son.

The bold, underlined, red-painted goal of Shores' comedic first act is the notion that none of this makes sense to begin with. How could a mother not love her son? How could a boy not find comfort and support in his spiritual house? It doesn't take a Northerner to point out that these fine, Southern morals -- charm, I believe it's called in some parts -- have nothing to do with common decency or civil harmony.

Where Shores takes his own righteous stand is in his unforgiving inability to not paint Marc's mother and preacher (Timothy Patrick Finnegan) as victims of their own beliefs. Whereas others might have granted both sides of this thorny debate their right to be heard, the enemy in these boys' lives is not the hate from their church or parents. Ultimately, it is worse to hate than it is to be hated.

On the other side of town, in a seedy bar, sit two has-beens with a better understanding of said Southern charm. Caricatures of caricatures, Mary Moebius and Bill Schmidt play a twosome of hilarious comic relief. Their names -- get this -- are Odette Annette Barnette and Peanut. Country music-lovin', Aqua Net-sprayin', gum-smackin', gin-downin', self-professed trailer trash, the two meet and toss stories of sordid love affairs and "unfortunate incidents" back and forth like bullets at the O.K. Corral.

Peanut, a gay man somewhere in his 60s, and Odette, probably old enough to be Peanut's daughter, realize their commonalities and discuss the morals of the day with all the flair that you'd expect. When Peanut questions Odette's being in a gay bar, she snipes back, "Honey, I'm not a lesbian. I'm an alcoholic."

The play's most comfortable scenes take place in one gay bar or another, where the boys' sexual escapades and temptations take flight. Some buy into it, others run. Odette, too, divulges a part of her previously kept private. In these dens of leather whips and drag queens (where Bucheker, as a queen named Iona Trailer, gives a stunningly cynical performance), their souls are to be released, not shunned or ridiculed.

Director Chris Kelly turns in a remarkable stage affectation of Shores' text. Not to mention the fact that he relays a dozen times and locations with effortlessness, he's extracted a wealth of genuine, fully realized characters. Comedic scenes are never in vain and always necessary. The deepest dramatic moments are nonetheless harrowing and eye-opening. Every member of Kelly's cast, too, is superb in his or her role. Notably remarkable are Colaiacovo, whose emotions must turn with the flip of a light switch; Sacco, whose anger and frustration is frightening; and Moebius, who reminds us that through thick and thin, it's still possible to depend on the kindness of strangers.

Even in the South.

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