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Fight the Right

Church ladies save a gay songwriter in The Stops

Wacky, irreverent Eric Lane Barnes, creator of Fairy Tales and Fruit Cocktails, has conjured yet another cartoon of a show about sexual identity. The Stops, now playing at Theatre New West, tells the campy tale of three middle-aged ladies who fight to save a gay writer of Sunday school songs from the religious right. With their bosomy power, Barnes manages to poke some good fun at the hypocrisy of the religious right while continuing his saga about what it means to be gay in America.

Ginny, Rose and Euglena are members of NALOG, the North American Lady Organists Guild. The female organists are played by men in drag, but this little detail is only part of the fun of this send-up of fundamentalist Christianity. Director Michael Harren's "family"-friendly production also features clever lyrics and jokes that are so bad they're bata-bing bata-boom funny.

Ginny (Chris Pool), Rose (Robert Leeds) and Euglena (played by the director) make an unlikely trio. But the three got together some time back at a NALOG convention and found their voices blended into an "exquisite sound." So they formed a singing group called the Stops and started touring the country, opening Safeways and the like with their three-part harmony.

Robert Leeds, Michael Harren and Chris Pool play 
organists who pull out all the Stops for 
songwriter Dale Meadows.
Robert Leeds, Michael Harren and Chris Pool play organists who pull out all the Stops for songwriter Dale Meadows.

Ginny "with a G" is a "lightfoot Baptist" from Georgia. Played with bubbles of energy by Pool, she's the most charming of the group, even if she does believe she conceived her son with a man from outer space. Rose Rabbinowitz, who wears a sparkling pantsuit that Maude from the '70s sitcom would have died for, was born Jewish, married a Catholic and became a unitarian. Leeds makes a tightly wound woman who stomps around ready to save humanity from itself. Euglena is the only true fundamentalist in the group. She's a practicing Nazarene who wants to "spread the love of God, next to whom our righteousness is like filthy rags." Harren's ultraconservative Euglena screws up her lips in sour indignation at the very notion of anything sexual.

All familiar types, the three "pretty much disagree" on everything except their love of music, and particularly their love of the religious songs created by one gay songster named Dale Meadows. "You must know Dale Meadows!" squeals Euglena to the audience. "He wrote 'I'm Happy as a Clam'!" -- a song whose lyrics go something along the lines of "I'm as happy as a clam / God sent me a telegram / and it says He loves me as I am / yes ma'am!"

If we didn't know Meadows before we got to the theater, we certainly get up to speed during the funniest number of the show, the "Dale Meadows Medley." Songs like "Faith Lift" encourage those of us who are "sagging with the ravages to life" to go under "Doctor Jesus' knife." There's also the salsa beat of "A Bossa Nova for Jehovah." And what would a medley be without a "Bible Rap": "Come and join the biblical boogaloo / God Almighty wants to rap with you!"

These inane tunes have apparently made Meadows very famous among his fundamentalist brethren. Of course, that was before they realized the master of corn was "homosexual!" as Euglena whispers. Meadows was outed by a mystery person who sent a whole new set of his tunes to the Stops. And now the church he works for wants to fire him from his choir job. The ladies have gathered to save him.

The new songs explain a lot about Meadows. One's about his "collection of Barbies." And while they aren't as funny as his God-awful hymnals, they do have their own charm, and each more clearly reveals Meadows's true sexual identity. "Hell on Earth" finds the devil in women's painful high-heeled shoes. "Fairies in the Foyer" is about gnomes, nymphs and the "dear" fairies who come to call at night. And the best of these numbers, "Fundamental," is a sort of musical screed against the right: "Point your finger here and there / Wave your morals in the air / Do the Fundamental."

Toward the end, Barnes's music sinks into the maudlin with numbers like "Give Me Strength." And despite his PC message about everybody being included in God's love, there isn't much here for the atheist. Barnes assumes that his audience believes in something they are willing to call God. If this sort of message doesn't bother you, and you're looking for something kitschy for the holidays (they're coming!), The Stops offers a pleasant alternative to the myriad versions of A Christmas Carol that will be arriving soon. Drag queens are more fun than Scrooge any day.

 
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