Unbuckling the Bible belt


Writer-performer Paul Bonin-Rodriguez thinks Dallas is the perfect place to unleash his irrepressible, small-town, Dairy Queen-working "sissy boy" alter-ego, Johnny. He also believes the McKinney Avenue Contemporary's theater space is the perfect venue to tell "The Bible Belt and Other Accessories," even though he's heard of the trouble that other outlandish performance artists -- namely Annie Sprinkle and Tim Miller -- have gotten here from the Dallas Association for Decency and, through DAD complaints, from the vice squad of the Dallas police.

"I think this is the place to do it," Bonin-Rodriguez says, "right smack-dab in the middle of the Bible Belt." Bonin-Rodriguez has performed his one-man show, the climax of which features Johnny and an actual belt of Bibles challenging social injustice.

"There's a reason so many gay people have left small towns," Bonin-Rodriguez says. Dallas may not be small, he continues, "but I'll bet we get a call or two. We usually do." The MAC's Kitchen Dog Theater artistic associate Tim Johnson, who brought Sprinkle, Miller, and, now, Bonin-Rodriguez to town, says that even though this is a provocative show about one gay young man's affront to the "religious right's" infiltration of his high school, there is very little material that could be even remotely construed as "blue."

"There's no nudity," Johnson says, "none at all. I don't think this piece is offensive. Some people may be tweaked by the title, but they'll have to get over it." Johnson says there's been no squawking from DAD as yet, and Bonin-Rodriguez's show opens March 16 for a four-day, long-weekend run. "We've earmarked a portion of the proceeds for the Thursday-evening performance to benefit the Walt Whitman Community School," Johnson says. Walt Whitman is Dallas' first private alternative high school with programs designed specifically for gay adolescents.

"I grew up in Glen Rose," Bonin-Rodriguez says, "and a lot of this story is my story." "Bible Belt" also tackles the touchy topics of segregation and integration, when Johnny teams up with his African-American home economics teacher, who is also the first black person in the fictional small Texas town. "I remember the [Ku Klux] Klan handing out fliers outside my school," Bonin-Rodriguez, 36, says. "Johnny learns from his high school experiences to build up an armor of constructive defiance."

Bonin-Rodriguez now lives in San Antonio, although he's spending a year in Sewanee, Tennessee, as the Tennessee Williams Fellow at the University of the South. "I always make a pilgrimage to Dairy Queen when I get back home," Bonin-Rodriguez says. And what's his DQ favorite? "A burger, of course," he says. "Although Wednesday night is always Christian steak-finger-basket night at Dairy Queen."

Annabelle Massey Helber

E-mail arts news and tales of repressed adolescence to anna.helber@dallasobserver.com.


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