This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Sister Dottie S. Dixon marks 2011 as the year dramatic characters in cross-dressing garb finally crossed over into mainstream Utah.
That's when she garnered the Mayor's Artist Award for Outstanding Performing Artist of the Year at the Utah Arts Festival, followed by a drive in her Escalade to Salt Lake City's First Unitarian Church, where she was honored with its Fairly Free Thinker Award.
Not bad for a "Spanish Fark" housewife more accustomed to cooking in the kitchen with "The Lard" than following theatrical stage directions.
Yet the character has little time to sit back and celebrate her meteoric rise to the top as Utah's best-known Mormon mother to a gay son.
See her new show, "Dottie: The Sister Lives On!," which opens Friday, Feb. 17, at Salt Lake Acting Company, and you'll understand why her schedule's packed. When the ward duties are done, she teaches "Spanish Fark Spanish" to the confused multitudes. When the Utah Legislature begins its session, she addresses the Utah House and Senate as a PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians) mother.
And just when she thought her son Donnie P. Dixon had settled into a relationship with a wonderful "Hispanish" man, Joaquin, he enters rehab for addiction to meth at the same time husband Don has a heart attack after too many "greasy wienies."
"Ya know, life seems ta ebb and flow in batches," she tells the audience. "Batches a Joyous joy and batches a Tramultuous Tests. That's how we learn. Parta that whole evolvin' thing, I guess."
Actor Charles Lynn Frost, who plays Sister Dottie Dixon every time he dons makeup and a wig, said he created the character in homage to his late mother and his years growing up in Spanish Fork. Frost said that as a boy he developed psychosomatic nosebleeds whenever he put on his uniform for Boy Scout meetings at his local wardhouse, where boys picked fights with each other almost endlessly.
"I learned how to be the class clown," Frost says. "Humor became a survival technique growing up. I wanted this character [Sister Dottie] to be everything I wasn't: a mother, straight, and someone who embraced an LDS heritage. In a way, I get to speak through two people every time I play her."
Frost's new play, co-written with Christopher R. Wixom, expands the character's message of love and tolerance for gays, lesbians and transgender people. This time around, as a follow-up to Frost's "The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon," the subtext roils with humor even as the play confronts the pain gay youth face when bullied.
"Humor is a shaper of almost any situation," Frost said. "But the line between comedy and tragedy is often just a few steps away. In this play, it's often just one step."
Joining her onstage is Sister Darstey FoxMoreland, who provides keyboard accompaniment ranging from classic Mormon hymns to radio hits from Spanish Fork's 1950s and '60s past. Slide presentations, sound effects and other multimedia propel the play forward, but Sister Dottie remains front and center.
"The goal at all times is that he can be the actor while I take care of other things," said director Robin Wilks-Dunn. "He's also invaluable helping me understand the Mormon references, since I wasn't raised LDS."
Frost said the pleasure of playing Sister Dottie comes with watching the audience evolve over time. At first, she was the toast of Salt Lake City's gay community on the KRCL radio show "Now Queer This," progressing into a charming voice of reason for gay rights. Now Frost regales in stories of how young gays and lesbians have taken their parents to a Sister Dottie show or fundraiser as warm-up to finally coming out.
"Now when I perform shows I see row upon row of Mormon mothers," Frost said. "And before every show I always ask, 'What would my mother do?' I say, 'Be with me, Mom. Charles wouldn't know what to do, but Mom would.' "
Sister Dottie returns
Salt Lake Acting Company presents "Dottie: The Sister Lives On!"
When • Previews Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 15 and 16, 7:30 p.m.; continues through March 4: Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, 1 and 6 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company Chapel Theatre, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City.
Info • $23-$41. Call 801-363-7522 or visit http://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org for more information.