Shelley Delaney stars in "Tammy Faye's Final Audition." (
Shelley Delaney stars in “Tammy Faye’s Final Audition.” (

Love the Sinner: OU Theater Blesses Tammy Faye Bakker Messner

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No matter what you think you know about Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, think again. In fact, Ohio University’s Shelley Delaney hopes to convince you that you don’t know Messner at all.

If you’re an American baby boomer, you likely remember how Messner, along with first husband Jim Bakker, formed the 1980s and ’90s scandal-ridden and disgraced televangelist team that led the popular Praise the Lord Club program.

But when Delaney takes the stage and tells her and playwright Merri Biechler’s version of the troubled soul (1942-2007) in the two-person Tammy Faye’s Final Audition, the caricature you’ve cultivated in your mind’s eye is peeled back.

Amid the heavy makeup, fake eyelashes, copious tears, ashy ’80s-style clothes, extravagant lifestyle, and, later, her gay-friendly stance, the real person from International Falls, Minnesota, emerges, say the participants.

Biechler, adjunct professor of theater history and playwriting in OU’s Division of Theater and staff member at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Delaney, associate professor of performance/head of performance, also in the theater division, intend to bring audiences into another dimension of Messner’s world.

The tiny but larger-than-life figure recalls alliances, ponders transgressions, and reconciles her life-long relationship with God as she spends her last hours on Earth losing her battle with cancer.

Reviews applaud the work’s swiftly moving pace and its multilayered creativity. For instance, praises how humor is incorporated into an account of the infamous icon “but doesn’t go so overboard that we’re left with a series of one-liners and little substance.”

Supported by Ohio University Associate Professor of Performance David Haugen, who portrays four key men in Messner’s life, the effort also illustrates the drive OU faculty have to continue working in and exploring their respective fields and fulfilling their artistic or scholarly curiosity.