Chortle if you wish over this queer dissection of the title, but save enough for the show itself, currently Off-Broadway in an open run at the Chelsea Playhouse. The name of the show--and the 1978 cult novel by Edward Swift upon which it is based--is the name of the fictional Texas town, population 745, where the show takes place, and where Timothy John Coleridge (Mark Cortale), an effeminate young man, was run out of town long ago.
Coleridge's aunt--perhaps the pseudo-sexual source of Timothy John's effeminateness--was an example of Splendora's finest citizenry as well as the victim of a terrible fire. We learn this at rise from the dotty, cartoony townspeople, including Maga Dell Spivy (Susan Roberts), Zeda Earl Goodrich (Carol Tammen), Lucille Monroe (Shannon Carson), Agnes Pullen (Culver Casson), and Sue Ella Lightfoot (Kristine Zbornik), the new sheriff-elect. In a performance that clearly deserves an Obie Award and hosannahs from left, right, and center, Zbornik, the actress, is the spitfire comic relief of the show, and her character, better still, the emotional motor of the play. This veteran of Forbidden Broadway and countless cabaret venues, with her uncanny Merman-esque voice, turns what might have been a one-dimensional Sue Ella into a thrilling, two-dimensional performance.
Now enter Miss Jessica Gatewood (Teri Dale Hansen), a beautiful and intelligent young woman contracted to run the county bookmobile (and all comparisons to The Music Man from here on are entirely intentional). From the moment of Jessica's arrival, her refined ways, plaintive drawl, and easy adoption of Splendora civic pride captivates the town--so much so that the town pastor, Brother Leggett (Tod Mason), soon finds himself having to choose between his needs as a cleric and his needs as a man.
Meanwhile, Sue Ella quickly grows suspicious of Jessica, and we know why: Timothy John has been on stage with her since the start of the play, and yet is invisible to the Splendorans.
In one critically lauded, tongue-twisting number, "What Is, Ain't," Sue Ella ultimately figures out that Timothy John is Jessica--but that isn't what makes the discovery so exciting. It's really the completion of the journey that the characters take, in particular that of the troubled, sexually-damaged boy who left home, came to terms with his sexuality, and returned to reclaim his roots and rights and reason.