Poor Anita Bryant.
Okay. Some background. I had vaguely heard of Anita Bryant before seeing Milk and before seeing David Karl Lee's show Pie-Face! The Adventures of Anita Bryant, but her "Save Our Children" campaign was in the late '70s, and both the Gay Rights movement and right wing faith based politics were things pretty much absent from my childhood home. She was the runner up in the 1959 Miss America Pageant, she had a successful recording career (her music appealed to the Pat Boone set), became the spokesmodel for Florida orange juice, and pitched among other products Coca-Cola, Tupperwear and Kraft Food Products. She married and recorded albums of Christian music. She was also bigoted, self-righteous, poorly informed, self-enchanted and drunk on her own certainty.
I loved Pie-Face. As anyone who reads this blog at all regularly knows, gender politics is my beat. And I sometimes have a really big problem with drag. It sometimes feels deeply misogynistic to me and I don't understand how it differs from blackface. Sometimes I look at productions featuring men playing women and I think: "Great. Even fewer roles for women on stage. What is this? Burbage circa 1580?" But I love Kiki. I love Divine. And I love Lee's Anita Bryant.
In the show's hour running time he tells of the rise and fall of Anita's repulsive crusade against homosexuality (for some reason the phrase "orange juice spokesmodel" gets funnier each time it is repeated) and the gay rights movement she inadvertently helped galvanize. Lee is a remarkable performer. It would have been so easy to play Bryant as a really ugly caricature, but he doesn't, he is doing something much more interesting. The things she says are stupid and bigoted and hateful and uninformed. She is an obvious precursor to Sarah Palin, and likely appealed to the same demographic. But she was crushed like a bug by both the culture wars of the '70s, and the narrow, patriarchal way of life she championed. I don't necessarily feel sorry for her, but Lee is playing an actual flawed human being whose downfall was largely of her own making. He's wickedly funny, but not needlessly cruel. The story of gay liberation (and he includes in his footage clips of gay women as well as men) that is interwoven with Anita's story is incredibly moving.
So, I guess, poor Anita Bryant. It's tough being on the wrong side of history. But I really, really hope she remains there.
And the pie incident. Honestly, I could watch it all day:
Pie-Face! The Adventures of Anita Bryant
Writer: David Karl Lee
Director: Kenny Howard
Actors Playhouse, 100 7th Avenue South
Remaining performances: Wed 19 @ 3:45, Sat 22 @ 7:45, Sat 29 @ 2:15
(photo: Dixie Lee Photography)