With the publication of Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mormon drama and how it currently stands as it own niche genre. The whole reason I pitched the idea of the anthology to Chris Bigelow at Zarahemla Books was because of the.impact that Mormon drama and its playwrights had made upon me when I was younger. I wanted to honor that powerful influence of a genre I loved and the Mormon playwrights who I owe so much to.
In high school, I attended a number of Mormon themed plays at BYU which inspired me…Eric Samuelsen’s The Seating of Senator Smoot and Gadianton; Elizabeth Hansen’s A String of Pearls; James Arrington’s Farley Family Christmas. My own youthful writing before that had largely been non-religious or, if religious, of a general Christian variety (my interest in C.S. Lewis in high school jump started this kind of writing). But it was Mormon drama that really made me investigate my own specific faith, artistically. Seeing my faith on stage, in the spotlight, drew me even deeper into a desire to more deeply investigate my closely held spiritual beliefs.
So this month I want to go into why the plays I chose made it into the anthology—what I think they contribute to Mormon drama and what impact they had on me personally:
Fires of the Mind by Robert Elliott: I came across this play as I began researching the history of Mormon Drama as an undergrad. References to it kept being made as a particularly influential play in Mormon drama when it was having one of its most important growth spurts in the 1970s. In 1986 Eugene England called it “the best single play written about the Mormon experience.” So I looked for it and discovered it in the UVU library in the inaugural issue of Sunstone. Fires of the Mind is a play about a set of missionaries in Taiwan, centering on Elder Johnson, an intellectually talented missionary who is having deep struggles gaining a spiritual testimony of the Restored Gospel.
In its intellectual sophistication, spiritual insight, and nuanced characterization, the play is a powerhouse. In reading it I was electrified by its deeply philosophical, yet natural dialogue, and its compelling spirituality in the face of intellectual doubt. I heartily endorse England’s statement that, even after all these years since Fires of the Mind debuted at BYU in 1974, it still holds up as one of the best plays Mormon Drama has to offer, although it’s gained good company since then. The real tragedy, however, is that Elliott has written very little since then. He’s a ghost of Mormon Drama past that I would gladly see resurrected. Continue reading