31 January 2009

Missionary Position

Missionary Position would not pass Correlation. It would probably offend virtually every orthodox Fowler Stage Three Mormon and anyone who's squeamish at seeing temple clothes outside the temple, or can't tolerate multiple, if discreet, references to the sort of intimate encounters that Prop 8 backers like to pretend don't exist. But thicker skinned types who watch knowing its author's background and perspective will find it among the quickest and most enjoyable 90 minutes they've ever spent.

In Missionary Position, playwright and sole actor Steven Fales tells the story of his mission, plus glimpses of pre- and post-mission life. Jitters and prayers just before opening the call letter that he wouldn't be sent to North Dakota, secret wishes he could run off to theatrical auditions while on layover at JFK en route to Portugal, stories of a renegade mission president's rewards of diamond-studded lapel pins to uber-baptizers with the result that drunks, street kids, and unwilling relatives were regularly pressured into baptism in order to keep up the statistics, struggles with faith and doubt and a closeted gay companion, it's all there. As is a poignant depiction of the innocent Elder Fales in the temple just after his own endowment, talking with the Steven Fales of 20 years later, more worldly wise and completely changed in his faith, probably the high point of the piece. It ends with Fales talking of his desire to take his kids to Portugal one day and dragging them about to all the areas in which he served. Here, he'll tell them, is where Daddy grew up.

Fales pulls no punches in stating his current perspectives on the Mormon religious culture. He is not a gratuitously abusive critic, but his disagreements with what he sees as indoctrination and efforts to squelch independent thinking are very clear. And any honest and spiritually mature Mormon will acknowledge these are indeed hallmarks of growing up in the Church and of much official Church instruction. His opinion of Joseph Smith and senior church leaders is not particularly high, but I've heard and read a lot worse on countless Web sites. His insights into the missionary experience are perceptive, accurate, sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious. A refreshingly fallible human spin on the sanitized picture-perfect version that the official Church so often touts.

Missionary Position is a mosaic of faith, good intentions, zeal, experience, disillusionment, maturity, education and self-discovery. If you're an active Mormon, you must have a fairly thick skin to watch it. But if you do, you'll find it a unique portrayal of one missionary's journey that shows all missionaries' journeys have things in common.

1 comment:

D. said...

How ironic?! While you were seeing Missionary Position I was meeting Emily Pearson. What a small world?! Haha!