Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins
by Anthony Chase
While the title makes Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins sound like a stage recreation of the life and times of the famed singer/pageant queen/citrus seller/hatemonger, in fact, the play runs like a remarkably hip version of The Wonder Years, with appealing young actor Justin Ryan playing a teenage boy, narrating the saga of his coming of age in the Adirondacks during the 1970s. In the familiar BUA theater style, there is plenty of doubling of characters on a minimalist set as one family in a remote mountain town deals with the recession of that decade, the Vietnam War, and their teenage son’s homosexual awakening. Yes, Anita Bryant does eventually appear—as does that other 1970s icon, Mark Spitz. The role of Anita Bryant naturally requires actress Wendy Hall to take a cream pie in the face.
“I’ve never received such a large reaction for doing basically nothing,” says Hall, of the moment of impact.
Actually, staging a pie to the face is more complicated than just standing there.
“We rehearsed it without actually using the pie at first, because it makes such a mess,” explains Hall. “And then we rehearsed it without my Anita wig. It is not actually whipped cream, which is greasy. It’s shaving foam. I quickly realized that soap to the face might be harsh, so I requested ‘sensitive skin’ shaving foam for the opening night. Big mistake. It’s wetter. It went everywhere.”
The other variable is the timing.
“I get hit with the pie mid-sentence,” says Hall, “so the even though the audience knows this is going to happen, they are not exactly expecting it. Well, one night, J. R. came in just a fraction of a second later than usual and I flinched in anticipation without realizing it. Then I thought, ‘Oh damn! I’ve ruined it!’ I’ve got to think through to the end of my sentence so that I don’t telegraph the moment in any way. When we get it right, I adore the reaction, which is explosive, and I loved being despised that way!”
Wendy Hall gets pied as Anita Bryant every Friday and Saturday at the BUA Theater, 119 Chippewa Street (886-9239).
Also in this week's Theater Week: Gutenberg the Musical & [Title of Show], I Am a Man, Third
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