Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Facing East

Facing East is the newest play by Carol Lynn Pearson which premiered last November in Salt Lake City at Plan B Theater. I was thrilled to see that the play was opening again in Salt Lake before heading to New York City and an off-Broadway run, and then a San Francisco run in August. Last weekend when I was in Salt Lake I had the opportunity to go and see it with my husband.

The play is about a Mormon couple at the graveside of their gay son, who has just committed suicide. There are only three actors--the parents, and their son's partner, who they meet for the first time halfway through the play. The father, a local radio personality, is beginning to question himself and the family he has built as he wonders how he has failed his son. The mother is dealing with her deep grief by holding ever stronger to her Mormon faith.

Carol Lynn succeeds brilliantly at demonstrating how the Mormon faith can conflict so strongly with a gay person struggling to find purpose in life. To her credit, she does this while maintaining an accurate, sympathetic, and poignant view of Mormonism. As liberal as I sometimes am, I found myself sympathizing with the views of the very conservative and doctrinaire mother, Ruth. She believes the teachings of the Church, and she wants her son to be happy, but she feels this cannot happen while he is in the "bonds of sin." She doesn't come across as misguided or stupid, though her religious beliefs cause unbearable pain to her son. It is clear that what she has taught him has made him the beautiful person that he was in life. On the other hand, it is also apparent that there is no reconciling homosexuality and the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We get to know Andrew through several flashbacks. He was a sensitive cello player and returned missionary. He used terms like "Kolob" in everyday conversation. He sang hymns to divert negative thoughts. It is especially apparent to Latter-day Saints viewing the play that the Church made an indelible mark upon him, as it seems to do to all who grow up under its influence. In fact, I doubt that nonmembers watching this can see as we do the extreme disconnect this causes. Part of you is Mormon, part is something you instinctively fear and abhor. As you come to accept one, you must reject the other. There is no consolidating the two.

The play closes with Ruth leaving her husband and her son's lover at the gravesite and going off to join the rest of the mourners with the food in the chapel. Before she leaves, she reaches out in the only way she can by providing advice on a recipe. But this is a woefully inadequate attempt to make a personal connection. It is symbolic of the efforts the Church has made to reach out to our GLBT members. Alex, the father, represents the direction that perhaps Carol Lynn hopes the Church will take. He has questioned the way he treated his son in the past, realized he never truly knew him, and now reaches out to the partner and makes plans to meet him for dinner. When I was viewing the play, I wondered why Alex didn't invite Marcus back to the chapel with him. I now realize that wouldn't have worked. It is not enough to invite GLBT's to join us on our turf. We must be willing to see things through their eyes and come together on neutral territory.


Jo said...

That, my dear, was quite the poignant play and post. Having some of my children not choose the church has made me face some of these issues. I guess I have decided that God loves all His children and I am willing to allow Him to decide what to do with them later. I will not pass judgement on my kids or even the gay people I know or don't know. God loves them, so do I and that is enough for now.

m_and_m said...

I realize this is a tough topic and we as a church have a way to go to reach out, feeling safe and loved , but I thought Elder Holland and Elder Jensen really handled the issue nicely, both in the documentary and in the interviews that are posted at I hope for a day when church will be a safe place for those who struggle with homosexuality and the loneliness that can accompany it, where they can ask for the help and support they need. We can't bend on the standards, but we can open our arms and hearts and lift up the hands that hang down. I think both of our leaders did this in quite a meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

As a gay man I don't need or appreciate your heartfelt condescension. You use words like "struggle" and "loneliness". These concepts of homosexuality's effects are part of the propaganda that you have been indoctrinated in. They are not my reality as a gay man. I am experience neither as a result of my sexuality, thank you. In fact, it was my membership in the Mormon Church (the inconguity that I experienced between my own personal truth and the teachings of the LDS religion) that caused me much pain. My life is no more or no less happy since leaving the LDS church, but it is much saner, much richer and I am muc more at peace with myself.

Bored in Vernal said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comment, I think that Carol Lynn's play really pointed to the incongruity that you are speaking of--and provided models for active Latter-day Saints on how to deal with the issue. The father's and the First Counselor's attitudes juxtaposed with the mother's more stereotypical one were instructive to me.

I'm wondering if you were able to see the play and if you think it was helpful for educating or enlightening members of the LDS Church.

AmyB said...

I just saw the play this evening in NYC. It was powerful and moving, and I thought it beautifully portrayed the various perspectives. I couldn't speak for several minutes after it ended.

It was interesting to hear the chatter after the play. Here in NYC it's playing in Chelsea, a predominately gay neighborhood. The audience was mostly gay men. While they did not seem to identify with the Mormon part, they seemed to really like it as well.

The Mormon church has changed its doctrine in the past. I have some hope it can change again to allow a fuller embrace of our gay sisters and brothers.

Bored in Vernal said...

Amy, I'm glad you saw it. I think it's fantastic that Facing East is playing in NYC! Here is a review from Variety magazine about the New York run:

Variety Review