Gay Mormon Drama Part Three

This is the third and final part of a paper I wrote for an American Drama Class entitled

Saints in America: the development of an authentic gay Mormon theater in light of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America

Thanks again to Zelophehad’s Daughter for the great post on the topic.

This last part focuses on newer works with a more faith driven approach to the topic. I am thrilled to see that Happy Little Secrets will be playing again soon in Salt Lake City and contributed to the project which everyone can  and should do here.

Faithful works and the New Play Project

Fortunately, in the past year it really seems like faithful Latter Day Saints have been stepping up to the challenge and working to craft reverential takes on the topic. Eric Samuelson the head of the playwriting program at BYU recently premiered a play called Borderlands with ticket proceeds going to benefit Affirmation, the national organization for gay and lesbian Mormons[1]. “I wrote a play about coming out,” said Samuelson about the play. “Not just coming out in the usual sense—in fact, in ‘Borderlands,’ the one gay character is already out. It’s a play about all the other ways we come out as Mormons, about admitting that we don’t necessarily believe what we’re supposed to believe, or that we don’t always find it possible to live the way we’re expected to live.[2]” Samuelson is a faithful writer that at the same time is not afraid to deal with tough issues of identity or sexuality. His dramatic series of short one act entitled Peculiarities, for instance, deals with questions of love, relationship and sexuality in ways that are uncommon in traditional faith-based writing. Thus, his influence has the potential to take LDS playwriting to a whole new level of quality. He envisions the possibility of the Great Mormon Drama similar to what Jewish novelists such as Chaim Potok are able to accomplish[3].

Likewise, the New Play Project describes itself as a pioneer in values-driven theatre. Yet, its writers have not shied away from topics of sex and same sex attractions. Writer Melissa Leilani Larson’s Happy Little Secrets represents perhaps a new age in plays about homosexuality. As one reviewer describes it “In stark contrast to what one might expect in a Mormon play “about” same-sex attraction, there is never a word uttered regarding “the church’s stand,” never a discussion about doctrine or policies, no recounting of the terrible human costs exacted by …. well, you get the idea.[4]” Protagonist Claire struggles with her unrequited attraction for her roommate Brennan whom is oblivious of her affectations. Yet, Claire truly lives up to the virtues that she aspires to, by sacrificing her own dreams and continuing to be a loyal friend. In the worst of the author, “Here’s a real person dealing with this situation, and she’s not going to make fun of it because it’s her situation. She’s not going to make light of it at the same time that she’s not going to let it destroy her life.[5]

Thus, this play does a lot to bring same-sex tendencies to the fore as a normal part of human development. “The play made the problem of same-sex attraction as normal, that is, as credible and as admittedly part of our set of struggles as, say, other-sex attraction outside of bounds. Or as normal as bulimia, or drug addiction, or pornography–and yet without the spectacle of those “issues,” either.[6]

For a culture that two decades ago claimed to have no problem with homosexuality, it seems to me that this is a major step in the right direction. It is likely that faithful writers will continue to engage with this complex and difficult topic. These stories seem to also give hope that an alternative exists beyond suicide or abandonment of faith. By recontextalizing homosexuality within the context of the secrets that others keep deep within, or in the context of day to day sacrifices, these writers are able to offer some degree of comfort for those practicing saints with homosexual tendencies.


[1] Theater Notes

Posted 2009-09-14 16:33:16 by Kelly Ashkettle http://www.inthisweek.com/view.php?id=1300281

[2] Borderlands reading set for Affirmation National Conference

August 30,; Salt Lake City Theater Examiner; Jenniffer Wardellhttp://ww.examiner.com/x-6858-Salt-Lake-City-Theater-Examiner~y2009m8d30-Borderlands-reading-set-for-Affirmation-National-Conference

[3] Whither Mormon Drama? Look First to a Theatre ; Eric Samuelson;  http://gospelink.com/library/document/90947?highlight=5l; Membership required for access

[4] A Brave and Reverent Mormon Play: Little Happy Secrets ; http://gideonburton.typepad.com/gideon_burtons_blog/2009/03/little-happy-secrets-review.html

[5] INTERVIEWED BY BENJAMIN CROWDER; http://mormonartist.net/issue-1/melissa-leilani-larson/

[6] A Brave and Reverent Mormon Play: Little Happy Secrets ; http://gideonburton.typepad.com/gideon_burtons_blog/2009/03/little-happy-secrets-review.html

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2 thoughts on “Gay Mormon Drama Part Three

  1. Thanks for posting this. Could I interest you in reading the posted text of my review of Angels in America, originally published in Irrantum in 2003/2004? Several of the points you make in Part 1 are similar to some I made. I’d love your comments. (The post is at http://www.langfordwriter.com/blog/?p=139#more-139 )

    I think the problem you mention here with respect to a limited range of perspectives in drama dealing with homosexuality and Mormonism is part of a larger problem that extends beyond drama. My own novel, No Going Back (published last year by Zarahamla Books), is the first full-length novel I’m aware of to address the issue of homosexuality from a perspective of potential faithfulness to LDS standards. So far, most of the narratives on both sides of this issue have been dominated by memoirs–which have their place, but which are also limited in some important ways.

    If your interests extend to that type of narrative, feel free to contact me for a review copy of my book.

  2. This was an interesting series. It even prompted me to think through how to create dramatic tension with stronger depth than the usual false conflicts in a faithfull resolution story.

    You could use it as a vehicle for discussing why some people experience miracles and some do not, and why.

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