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Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins
By David Avery
Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins is the coming-of-age story of Horace Poore (Wyatt Fenner), a child growing up in the 1970s in a blue-collar Adirondack family. It depicts Horace's attempts to come to grips with his burgeoning sexuality, amidst the backdrop of Anita Bryant's famous (and ridiculous) Save Our Children anti-gay rights campaign. After his brother Chaz (Nick Niven) runs off to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft — leaving Horace, his mother Etta (Jan Sheldrick), and his father Myron (Tony Pandolfo) to cope with the perceived betrayal — Horace becomes enamored of his new gym teacher Jake Spencer (Nick Ballard). Jake, a Mark Spitz look-alike, has a fairly ambiguous presence in Horace's life, in school and out.
Wyatt Fenner does most of the heavy lifting in the autobiographical recounting, giving protracted soliloquies as well as adding color commentary to the on-going action. This requires him to shift tone from youth to adult often, something he pulls off effortlessly. His dialog is delivered with a bone-dry wit that forced him to several times wait for the audience to stop laughing. Fenner seems to have a natural ability to convey a sense of intimacy with the audience. Horace's brother Chaz (Nick Niven) acts as the conscience of the play, and is always trying to help is little brother and family get past the roadblocks in their relationships.
The family banter between Etta and Myron as we follow them through the years is equally hilarious. Sheldrick and Pandolfo have a great on-stage rapport that demonstrates their characters deep love for each other, even as they battle for supremacy of the household. Ballard's Coach Spencer is vaguely menacing in multiple ways.
Anyone who grew up in (or lived through) the nineteen seventies will find much here that's familiar — from the costuming (by Susanne Klein) to the set designs and props (Stephen Gifford). Sean Owens and Madelynn Fattibene add to the nostalgia by portraying various personalities from the seventies, such as Walter Cronkite and, yes, Anita Bryant. The small stage is artfully centered around Horace and Chaz's treehouse which serves as both a place of santuary from events as well as a place to observe and comment on them. Richard Israel keeps the pacing fast and story moving with quick scenes and lighting cuts to redirect the action.
While the second act delves into some darker territory, the overall tone of the play is steadfastly upbeat. It provides a e poignant tone to the problems young Horace faces in embracing his nature. Though society's general reaction to gay rights is usually hateful and unpleasant, Williams' play and characters choose to laugh at it rather than react to it with hate.
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