Sunday, January 11, 2009

Did The Catholic League See "The Big Voice" Before Condemning It?

As I mentioned yesterday, with slight tongue in cheek, Jim and I were proud to accept the condemnation from The Catholic League for The Big Voice.

But, in making a joke, I didn't actually respond to the specific charges. In the spirit of fairness, lets review what's written on their site, an annual report:
San Francisco, CA
– "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" was performed at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. The two-man play, described by the San Francisco Chronicle as a "very funny chamber musical about growing up gay and religious," stars gay men who grew up Baptist and Catholic respectively. In the play, one character achieves a "spiritual epiphany" during a religious pilgrimage when he sees a performance by Ethel Merman.
We're not just funny. We're VERY funny! Thanks for including that. But that plot summary is not precisely correct, although the image of Ethel Merman in the niche is a video that needs to be made.
[For my Baptist family:
Ethel Merman was a singer from olden days up in New York who sang very loudly. The "niche" is referring to a "holy place" as designated by the Roman Catholic Church because an actress named Jennifer Jones... No, wait. This peasant girl in France, in way WAY olden days saw a vision of "Mother Mary," who Baptists see as just a nice girl who gave birth to Jesus, but who Catholics see as the Mother Of God. The whole town turned against her, Bernadette, especially the ugly, hard-eyed Mother Superior (played in the movie, with grim, stone-faced and heart-breaking authority by our beloved Gladys Cooper -- one of the greatest performances in any movie ever.) In the niche, as Mother of God was the uncredited Linda Darnell. So, when I pictured Ethel Merman as Linda Darnell as Mother Mary and it made me laugh... Watch "Song of Bernadette" -- which, by the way, is Jim's favorite movie because Jennifer Jones makes him cry. I like it because of Vincent Price. Then watch "Call Me Madam" where Ethel deafens Donald O'Connor by singing "I Hear Music" into his ear and you'll laugh uproariously in retrospect.
My point is that that's not exactly what happens in The Big Voice: God or Merman?.

Yes, Jim goes on a pilgrimage to Rome and Lourdes, but he doesn't see Ethel Merman in the niche. He meets Ethel Merman after a matinee of "Gypsy" at the Broadway Theatre on 53rd because her father knew his father. And, as he hilariously relates in "The Big Voice," -- playing this weekend for three performances only at the Indio Performing Arts Center -- as he stood on that stage talking to her, the curtain rose -- and it became the moment he knew what his destiny would be: Working in the theatre.

He goes on to talk about how Ethel volunteered at hospitals, and how one can "minister" without actually being a minister. (At the time, he was deciding between acting and being a priest.) But the point is that it was a metaphor. For an awakening to one's destiny, as it were.

Do we poke fun at Catholicism? Absolutely. We also poke fun of ourselves and we poke fun at Baptists. But The Big Voice is not anti-Catholic and it's not anti-Baptist. I'd do this show for my parents. We had priests who recommended us to their congregants in New York.

We had a lot of Baptist fans in Houston. We did our show for the Unitarian Universalist national convention. We had a houseful of Mormons one night in Houston -- and they loved us. They totally loved us. Mormons!

We also have a huge Jewish following, just to try to get this into a larger context.

And to get this into an even larger context, some of the show's fans are atheists.

Magic trick?

Nope. Storytelling.

Okay, seriously. The point of our show is this: Here is who we are. This was our experience. This is what it felt like, and since we're only humans describing human emotions, maybe you'll recognize yourself and feel inspired.

And we sing.

And we really like each other.

And if we're VERY funny, it's because there's truth behind it all. Little-t truth. If you're looking for capital-t Truth, that would be beneath my pay scale.

The Catholic League, however, claims that they are speaking capital-t Truth, so I wanted to take this moment to argue my case. If you change your report, you make us less press-worthy, of course, so I'm only hurting myself, but I honestly don't believe anyone from your group actually saw our show. I swear, Jim and I are the two most lovable human beings you'll ever meet.

If you're going to put a black mark on our work, make sure you've actually seen it. But you'll have to come this next weekend because Jim is gonna start doing "Zero" in Florida. I'll buy your tickets. We're in Palm Springs. Indio Performing Arts Center. January 16th - 18th
Friday & Saturday at 7:00 pm. Sunday matinee at 2:00 pm.
(By the way, reader, on the Catholic League's Annual Report page there's a big naked chocolate Jesus. If not for the League, I'd never have seen it -- kinda like Porno Pete who shows gay porn on his Christian site so that people can see how horrible gays are. We Baptists didn't have naked Jesus' on our walls, so this kind of iconography is weird to us to begin with. Worse, I'm diabetic, so I couldn't eat Jesus if I wanted to.)


Norn Cutson said...

I actually thought THE BIG VOICE was *very* catholic, in the Flannery O'Connor sense.

i loved it!

Anonymous said...

There is no "IF we're very funny" as mentioned above - they ARE very funny - very, very funny. The show makes very poignant points about religion and the effects it has on us all - and it's funny, sad, sometimes emotionally wrenching, thoughtful - it's everything that makes a GREAT SHOW! And it's TRUE! Jim & Steve are taking us along on the journey of their lives, giving us a glimpse into who they are and how they came to be - as individuals and as a couple. It is a privilege to see the show and, in my case, to have played Jim in our production. It's a show we can all relate to - no matter your gender, sexual preference, religious affiliation - we can all relate.

Anonymous said...

This sort of reminds me of 'pundants'. We never heard of these relative unknowns till they target someone(s) who have achieved public notice, in order to draw attention to themselves where otherwise we'd have no clue they even existed.

Do they not realize instead of creating a negative, they've generated public interest? That's a whole lot better then being unrecognized. So you owe the a big thank you to the Catholic League for bringing this to the public's attention.

And it didn't cost you a dime!

Anonymous said...

No point arguing with bigots. Are you sure you don't want me to resend the lions image from Sydney's last WYD. Garn. I double dog dare ya. Morrie.

JoyZeeBoy said...

As Kathy Griffith said, the Catholic League is "some guy with a computer."

As far as I'm concerned a condemnation from them is tantamount to having something "banned in Boston" prior to 1960. It's like getting a rave in the NYTimes.

Anonymous said...

I want to be condemned by the Catholic League!!! What does an openly (practicing - heck by now I am a pro!) gay person, who believes that God and Christ are myths, who eats meat on Fridays and if happens to be in a Catholic church (for a wedding or furneral) refuses to kneel at the specified times have to do?

Steve Schalchlin said...

Ernie, that pretty much makes you like most Catholics I know. :)