You know you’re gay when you see yourself in a character written by Del Shores.
You know you’re really gay when you are a character written by Del Shores, as in the case of a Houston woman who inspired one of the title roles in Six Characters in Search of a Play, a 90-minute one-man show that Shores will perform July 14–15 at Houston’s Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church (RMCC).
“Of course, I changed her name,” says Shores, who is the author of wildly popular fare such as Sordid Lives, Southern Baptist Sissies, and other works that draw on his upbringing in Winters, Texas.
“I’m not really a writer; I’m a thief!” he says, humbly maintaining that he simply records what he sees and hears—including his 2015 appearance in Houston when a monkey bit him at a meet-and-greet party at Guava Lamp. On the other hand, he says, he embraces the advice attributed to writer Mark Twain: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
RMCC board member Van English was at the scene of the monkey bite, but he doesn’t want to hear any spoilers as to how Shores tells (and perhaps embellishes) what happened. “I want it to be a surprise,” English says. “I want to be as shocked and thrilled and inspired as I always am by Del Shores.”
In addition to the RMCC member with the monkey, whose character’s name in Six Characters is “Marsha,” Shores reveals that his script features five parts based on people, “who have inspired me, but I have not quite found a place for them yet in my plays or my TV shows or my films.” Shores plays each of them, without costumes and with minimal props. For example, when he holds two fingers to his mouth and inhales, the audience knows the character is smoking.
Chain-smoking “Sarah” is based on the late Sarah Hunley, an actress who appeared in the movies Marie (starring Sissy Spacek), Ghosts of Mississippi, and Waitress, but was best known for her portrayal of Juanita Bartlett in the movie Sordid Lives. Due to health problems, Hunley was unable to reprise her role in last year’s movie A Very Sordid Wedding, in which Oscar-winner (and all-around shit-stirrer) Whoopi Goldberg made a cameo appearance as a minister who champions marriage equality. When Qfest hosted a screening of A Very Sordid Wedding at the River Oaks Theatre, says English, “A very large contingent from our congregation attended.”
RMCC senior pastor Troy Treash says there is a natural connection between Shores and the LGBTQ community. “Del is fully immersed in the lives of queer people and their struggle with commitment to faith,” he says. “Humor is healing, and Del brings a deft hand mirroring our truth right back at us and making us laugh at ourselves.”
English agrees. “We all have things about us that are lovable or unlovable, ugly or beautiful.”
Six Characters in Search of a Play (whose title is a play on Luigi Pirandello’s classic absurdist comedy, Six Characters in Search of an Author) also includes “Yvonne”, an anti-vegetarian waitress whom Shores met in Dallas, where he performs regularly. “I usually find interesting characters when I stop for food, or gas, or something,” Shores says. “My friend asked the waitress if there was any meat in the green beans, and the waitress replied, ‘Well, yes, honey, they are green beans.’”
The other three characters in the show are “Loraine,” a once-brilliant drama teacher “who has lost her damn mind” and now is obsessed with porn; “Aunt Bobby Sue,” a racist Republican “with a heart of gold”; and Jimmy Del, a “very conflicted, latent homosexual” who loves Magic Mike.
Of the sextet, the character that Shores loves the most (no spoiler here) is “the one who really just does not give a damn. He (or she) has no f–ks left to give.”
English allows that Shores is donating 50 percent of the show’s proceeds to RMCC, to help pay for repairs that were needed following last year’s Hurricane Harvey. If the first two shows are sold out, there is a possibility of adding a third benefit performance.
Treash says he welcomes any and every appearance by Shores. “When we put on a live production of Southern Baptist Sissies in our activities building, even the shocking and tough stuff brought healing,” he says. “It was a full house each night as our sanctuary choir director, Steven Shannon, played the lead role in drag and would drop in and out of song perfectly. Queer people have a complicated relationship with God. It is a miracle each time an LGBTQ person finds spiritual transformation that overcomes early faith teachings. Del knows this.”
What: Six Characters in Search of a Play, by Del Shores
When: 8 p.m. on July 14, 2 p.m. on July 15
Where: Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 2025 W. 11th St.
This article appears in the July 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.