It isn’t often that an LDS author creates an LDS-themed play that is performed outside of the few venues in Utah that are willing to occasionally perform Mormon works. I have the impression that the timeliness of the topic of the play has a lot to do with interest in performing these works, which makes me wonder, shouldn’t more Mormon playwrights confront topical issues? Or are they and I’m not aware enough?
I noticed this tendency towards the topical recently because of news stories about the recent opening in Los Angeles of Carol Lynn Pearson‘s play Facing East, in which an LDS couple struggles with the suicide of their excommunicated gay son. [I’ve read reviews in both the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times.] Other LDS plays I’ve seen produced outside of Utah also kind of fall into this category; for example, Julie Jensen’s play Two Headed was produced here in New York City nearly a decade ago.
While I can’t say that this is a clear trend in any way. There are certainly LDS plays that are topical and yet still only get performed in those same few venues. It also may be that the playwright’s residence outside of Utah is a factor somehow–Pearson lives in California and Jensen in Las Vegas (if I recall correctly).
It is also easy to see why some LDS authors shy away from topical subjects. The most dependable audience for LDS-themed plays has to be in Utah, but it is easy to see why much of that audience might dislike topical works because they often challenge conventional ways of thinking about their subject. On the other hand, without that challenge to convention, it is difficult to attract the interest of theaters outside of Utah, who are faced with tens of thousands of possible scripts to perform.
I’m sure this isn’t the only factor that LDS playwrights face in writing plays. Familiarity with the subject has to be an important factor — for example, Pearson is intimately familiar with the issues of homosexuality in Facing East, since her late husband was gay and died of AIDS, her daughter is divorced from a gay man, and she has friends that have struggled with being gay in the Church, such as her friend and early collaborator, Trevor Southey. Likewise, Jensen’s background is in southern Utah, where Two Headed is set.
Still, with the inherent difficulty of getting LDS plays performed, and the benefit that I, at least, see in getting a non-LDS audience for LDS works, it sure seems like topical subjects may present an easier road to getting works before a national audience. And such plays don’t necessarily turn off LDS audiences, if done right. Gideon Burton, on his blog, recently reviewed Melissa Leilani Larson’s play Little Happy Secrets (produced for the New Play Project), which also deals with homosexuality, suggesting that it “is an unqualified success.” [I understand that Mahonri will cover it here also.]
I hate to suggest what anyone should write about, so I guess I’m just throwing out some food for thought. What do you think?