Compelling Confessions an Authentically Worthy Experience

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Confessions of a Mormon Boy

Written and Performed by Steven Fales, Original Direction by Jack Hofsiss, Set and Lighting Design by Steve Cohen and adapted by John Malinowski, Sound Design by Joe Killian and adapted by Nathan Leigh, Costume Design by Ellis Tillman, Hair and Make-up by Brian Haugen

Cast
Steven Fales

Performances: Now through May 19 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre
Box Office: Through Boston Theatre Scene 617-933-8600, Online at www.BostonTheatreWorks.com, In Person at the Calderwood Pavilion Box Office at BCA (527 Tremont Street) or the BU Theatre Box Office (264 Huntington Avenue)

Confessions of a Mormon Boy, Steven Fales's strikingly honest one man show about his struggle as a Mormon coming to terms with his sexual identity, is a compelling piece of theatre, the likes of which are not staged nearly as often as they should in today's era of revivals, film remakes, and revenue-driven productions. This ninety-minute monologue is a breath of fresh air, and though the show focuses on a single experience, Confessions of a Mormon Boy is a moving work of art, relevant to individuals from all walks of life.

This is a story of faith, disillusionment, acceptance, and personal redemption. Steven is a Salt Lake City Mormon—as well as an Eagle Scout, international missionary, and BYU graduate—who, after marrying in the Salt Lake Temple and fathering two children, still struggles with a long time "same-sex attraction." After several failed therapy attempts to "correct" this don't work, he is excommunicated from the church, and after divorcing his wife, heads to New York City, where his acting career soon takes a back seat to a world of gay escorting and drug use. What starts as a need for survival quickly spirals out of control, and it isn't until he hits rock bottom that Steven is able to redeem himself, reclaim his family, and fully accept himself as a proud gay man.

While the individual's sexual coming of age isn't exactly groundbreaking material for the theatre—and the struggle between Mormonism and homosexuality has also been highlighted in several works, notably Angels in America and the 2003 film Latter Days, among others—Confessions of a Mormon Boy stands out on several levels, the most obvious of which is that this story is true. This underlying dose of reality enhances the already raw and emotional experience of the show, and though the realization that the character and the actor are one and the same at times induces traces of guilt—is it really ok to be privy to such a personal journey?—the overall effect is one of pride rather than shame. Fales opens himself up completely to the audience in telling his story, and for this, we should all be truly grateful.

After leaving the theatre, however, I did ponder whether or not the show was capable of going up with another actor in the title role. The quality and relevance of the material are no real question—I am certain this play can stand tall through the ever-changing global climate, and its poignant message of overcoming social restrictions and being true to oneself is universal—but would the play have the same significance and connection if Fales no longer starred as himself? This in itself could serve to reinforce the strength, longevity, and significance of the work.

My conclusion? Though it wouldn't be quite the same, Confessions of a Mormon Boy could, in fact, go up with another actor in the title role, thanks to Fales' exquisitely-written script. The dialogue and transitions flow effortlessly, and the detail-laden anecdotes are priceless. The balance between seriousness and humor is just so where neither overpowers the other, and though Fales uses humor to lighten some of the more emotional and serious experiences of his life, the message is never lost in the punch line; if anything, it is reinforced. He dabbles with stereotypes, but it's never too much, and though there is so much potential for such a show to quickly turn self-indulgent, Fales knows just when to draw the line. He doesn't glamorize his life nor does he plead for sympathy; he simply tells, in his own words, what he has lived. Though there seems a tendency to rush through certain topics—earlier same-sex experiences, drug use, an HIV scare, and the moment he hit rock bottom, for example—these are minor blips on an otherwise fresh and almost flawless script.

Fales himself shines in the title role, and though another actor certainly could take the character on, it would likely be quite different from Fales's depiction of, well, himself; his personal connection to the material lends itself to the best possible portrayal of the work. Fales' use of recordings is both interesting and effective, and works in perfect harmony with Jack Hofsiss's minimalist staging and Steven Cohen's set and lighting designs, both of which serve to enhance the action and material presented on stage.  Confessions of a Mormon Boy is moving and entertaining both because of the material as well as the way it is presented.

While I usually shy away from productions with the word "confessions" in the title—the tantalizing tease of a description more often than not disappoints—Confessions of a Mormon Boy is the exception to my usually steadfast rule. This is a human show about life, love, and self-acceptance, and it is one I recommend with my highest regards. This fresh twist on a classic tale is an honest-to-goodness example of great theatre that is most definitely worth experiencing.



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From This Author Olena Ripnick

Olena Ripnick is a Boston University journalism student and freelance writer whose introduction to the performing arts took place when she was cast as Gretel (read more...)