Screenwriter, director and comic Del Shores returns to Waco Monday to show off his gay wedding.
Not a personal one — that happened in 2008 and he and his spouse are now divorced — but the one in semi-fictional Winters, Texas, that’s at the core of his comedy “A Very Sordid Wedding.” Shores and actor-producer Emerson Collins, a fellow Baylor University graduate, will be on hand when “A Very Sordid Wedding” plays at 7 p.m. Monday at the Waco Hippodrome.
The two are touring Texas venues on a promotional tour of the movie, which follows up on Shores’ 2000 film “Sordid Lives.” Adapted from his 1996 play of the same title, “Sordid Lives” follows a small town Texas family in the messy aftermath of the matriarch’s death, one complicated when social and religious norms clash with personal and familial relationships.
Drawn from roots
“A Very Sordid Wedding” follows with Winters, Texas — where Shores was born — facing the issue of marriage equality. Ty (Kirk Geiger), who came out at his grandmother’s funeral, has come back with his spouse (T. Ashanti Mozelle) on their quest to be married in every state.
That puts his mother Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia) on a collision course with the religious powers-that-be and their new Anti-Equality Revival (one of whom played by actress and Baylor alumna Carole Cook) while her sister LaVonda (Ann Walker) and best friend Noleta (Caroline Rhea) find new loves; sister Sissy Hickey (Dale Dickey) reads the Bible cover-to-cover for its message on homosexuality; and cross-dressing gay brother Earl “Brother Boy” (Leslie Jordan) makes his way back home via a detour with a serial killer (Emerson Collins).
It gets a little wilder than that — a Variety review called “Sordid Lives” “John Waters meets Jeff Foxworthy” — but there’s a more serious message worked in, too.
“It looks at what happens when you put a face on gay. What happens when they become human,” Shores explained.
It took Collins and Shores several years after the “Sordid Lives” movie to realize “A Very Sordid Wedding,” only to find a real-world script throwing an unexpected curve: the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages. The decision led Shores to rewrite his script, but made the film even more relevant.
The film’s limited release started with a bang: It had an enviable $40,000/screen average for its Palm Springs, Calif., opening last month and the audiences that Collins and Shores have met have embraced it. “It’s been extremely exciting, seeing the response to it,” said Collins.
The screening allows a hometown visit for Collins, who grew up in Waco and attended Baylor University from 1998 to 2002. Both men grew up in a strong Southern Baptist culture, which continued, to some extent, during their Baylor years. The conflict between sexuality and the spiritual informs Shores’ 2013 play “Southern Baptist Sissies,” in which four gay men struggle with their church upbringing and their identity, with responses ranging from denial to departure.
Shores studied journalism and Spanish while attending Baylor in the 1970s. He didn’t come out as gay until years later when he was in Los Angeles, married and with two daughters. He chafed under Baylor’s administrative thumb over students and is less forgiving since then of the university’s official stance against homosexuality.
Collins, on the other hand, found a different environment when he was a student nearly two decades later, at least on the student and faculty level. “Growing up in a very Southern Baptist culture, you knew better than to talk about it,” he said. Collins was a University Scholar in the theater department and appeared onstage at Baylor and the Waco Civic Theatre in productions of “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Stages” and “The Fantasticks.”
While he had to downplay his sexual identity in certain circles, he nonetheless felt a measured freedom among his friends and associates. He senses attitudes are continuing to shift, helped in part by Baylor basketball great Brittney Griner, who came out as lesbian after her years at Baylor.
“It’s real hard for bigots to hate their Texas sports figures,” Shores quipped.
Shores’ and Collins’ experiences with the church also differ, with both counting Baptist pastors in their families. Shores found he could no longer be comfortable in the faith he grew up with.
“I consider myself an agnostic who lives with a lot of hope . . . I believe in humanity. I don’t feel like I need to return to church,” Shores said.
Collins, on the other hand, leaves the door to faith open, noting a survey that found roughly half of those identifying themselves as LGBT also identify as people of faith. They’re finding homes in welcoming churches and he praised Waco pastors Kyndall Rothaus of Lake Shore Baptist Church and Charlie Garrison of Metropolitan Community Church for their willingness to stand publicly for such.
“These are the real heroes to me,” he said.