On-Stage: January’s “Mormon Drama Spotlight”

This is cross-posted at A Motley Vision.

Every month I also plan on setting little spotlights on little news items and tidbits about Mormon Drama along with the monthly Scripting Mormon Drama spot. So here goes our first crop of notables for the month of January:

- The Book of Mormon Musical… by the creators of South Park!

South park Mormon Musical Some of us who have had the misfortune of seeing one of Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s strangely malicious AND strangely affectionate lampoons about Latter-day Saint religion, history, and culture on their  irreverent and crude show South Park . At least the tongue in cheek South Park segment about the people in hell being told, “The correct answer was… the Mormons,” has some healthy appreciation among Mormons and is often quoted with nervous laughter. There is also a relatively positive spin on Mormon family life and FHE in one episode, but their distorted and erroneous version of Mormon history shows Martin Harris as a duped idiot, with Lucy Harris being the smart one (of course neglecting to mention that Martin Harris and the three witnesses report to seeing the plates and an angel) and showing Joseph Smith as a charlatan offends Mormon sensibilities, making us all seem as much of stupid dupes  as their version of Martin Harris. And don’t get me started on their “Super Friends” spoof of creating a super hero team out of major religious figures, including Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Mohammed (at least we’re not the only ones in their cross hairs).  Parker and Stone were also the creators of the purportedly filthy film  Orgasmo, about an LDS missionary who becomes a porn star to pay for his mission (uh… what?!). So for some of us, the news about Parker and Stone making a Broadway musical about Mormons came with a certain amount of dread and morbid curiosity.

I’ve had my high school students authoritatively quote these twisted, offensive segments to me as if they were true, penetrating exposes on Mormonism,  so I’m a little afraid of where these two creators’ morbid fascination with our religion is going to take them this time and how it will again capitalize on us for a few cheap laughs and some dirty jabs. Of course, they’ll do it while stating it with enough of a smile and sense of pretended understanding that will elicit comments like this from Vogue Magazine:

“It is, hands down, the filthiest, most offensive, and—surprise—sweetest thing you’ll see on Broadway this year, and quite possibly the funniest musical ever.”

Here’s a couple of news items about the upcoming show (which begins Feb. 24th), including a filmed interview with Trey and Parker with the New York Post:

- New York Post article

- Playblog article

The premise of the musical:  two Mormon missionaries serving in Africa, seems benign enough until it’s revealed that one of them is a closet homosexual (of course pairing Mormons with this divisive issue hasn’t been done before! Here we go again…) and until you realize that nothing by these two satirists is ever benign.

New Play Project’s Two Upcoming Plays: He and She Fighting, A Love Story and WWJD

On a happier note, New Play Project continues its commitment to producing new Mormon Drama, with upcoming plays by Eric Samuelsen and Anna Christina Kohler Lewis.

He and She FightingHe and She Fighting: A Love Story, written by Eric Samuelsen and directed by Davey Morrison, is first up to bat, being presented at the Provo Theater (105 East, 100 North, Provo, UT) from February 10-February 21 at 7:30 pm. A segment of this play (”The Exact Total Opposite”) was included in NPP’s recent anthology: Out of the Mount: 19 From New Play Project. The blurb advertising the event bills the play as, “Boy meets girl. Boy dates girl. Boy argues endlessly with girl. A painfully funny (and sometimes just painful) look at one couple’s relationship as chronicled by the times they hate each other most, playwright Eric Samuelsen’s new full-length comedy is the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day OR Singles Awareness Day. Either way, you won’t want to miss it.”

Soon after that (the first two weeks of April),  Anna Christina Kohler Lewis’s WWJD will be performed by NPP, again at the Provo Theatre. I just finished reading the posted script this morning and, after some initial trepidition about the premise (a skateboarding Jesus visits and subtly helps a bunch of college room mates, while remaining involved in their day to day activities, including washing dishes, miniature golfing, dancing at a bar, among other atypical things for the Son of God to do). After the initial shock from the audacity of the script, I found myself warmed by Lewis’s down to earth Jesus (you know, the one who dined with sinners and consistently pushed against people’s preconceived notions). In her approach Lewis’s play is much more akin  to It’s a Wonderful Life than The Last Temptation of Christ.  If people can get past the initial prejudice against its anachronistic, populist Jesus, then I think people could be quite spiritually moved by this play (with the possibility of lots of nervous laughter, as it’s quite funny, too).  It will have to overcome several hurdles, though. The first, and probably most major, obstacle being getting enough people in Utah Valley who are comfortable with the premise enough to  want to buy tickets. However, although the premise seems brazen and possibly blasphemous, once you get to the end of the play, you discover quite the opposite. It’s practically old fashioned and, strangely, that fact plays as one of the script’s greatest strengths.

About Mahonri Stewart

Mahonri Stewart is a Kennedy Center award winning playwright and screenwriter who resides in Arizona with his wife Anne and their two children. Mahonri recently graduated with an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Arizona State University, and received his bachelors in Theatre Arts from Utah Valley University. Mahonri has had over a dozen of his plays produced by theatre venues and organizations such as Utah Valley University, the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, Arizona State University, the FEATS Theatre Festival in Switzerland, Zion Theatre Company, the Echo Theatre, BYU Experimental Theatre Company, Art City Playhouse, the Little Brown Theatre, the Binary Theatre, and the Off Broadway Theatre in Salt Lake City. Mahonri also loves superheroes, literature, film, board games, lasagna (with cottage cheese, not ricotta!), and considers himself an amateur Church Historian. He is also a tireless advocate for Mormon Drama.
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