If unemployment is hitting double digits and a global recession and gay rights are major issues, what year are we living in?
It might not be 2010. The fact that the same things happened in the 1970s could be a reason why the new play “Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins” is destined to stand out.
Playwright Brian Christopher Williams’ humorous period piece, which begins previews at the New Conservatory Theatre Center on Friday, undoubtedly will sizzle for how well it captures the mood during a time when civil rights became a major crusade and when Bryant’s stance on homosexuality raised eyebrows.
Williams’ odyssey tells of a closeted 15-year-old named Horace who tries desperately to make sense of the turmoil around — and in — him.
As he and his family weather the Vietnam War, and his older brother flees to Canada to escape the draft, he develops a big crush on his hunky gym teacher. Meanwhile, his mom and dad deal with the economic downturn, and singer and beauty queen Bryant makes news as she begins a militant campaign against gay rights.
Director Dennis Likteig says the play, receiving its San Francisco premiere at New Conservatory, remains relevant today.
“The idea excited me,” he says. “Sometimes, I think, telling a story in the present day doesn’t always have the impact that something from the past, that seems so current, does. But, this basically adds another layer to it. It seems less like you’re trying to preach to somebody.
“I found the issues that Williams chose to explore were really exciting and ones people could relate to.”
That wasn’t the case for all of the show’s actors, including Marie O’Donnell, Harry Breaux, Justin Dupuis and Michael Doppe.
“Half of the cast lived during the time and the other half had no connection with it because they weren’t born yet,” Likteig says. “So they’ve had a good time learning what the early ’70s were like.”
Members of the younger generation in the ensemble were surprised by the anti-war messages during the time.
“You don’t hear that much today, despite the fact that we are in an unpopular war,” Likteig says. “It was much more a part of pop culture than it is now. So it’s been surprising to the younger members of the cast that our generation, back then, was so much more involved politically. It was more grass-roots back then.”
If you go
Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins
Where: New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: Previews Sept. 17-24; opens Sept. 25; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 24
Tickets: $24 to $40
Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org