Confessions of a Mormon Boy
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 2, 2006
Steven Fales was born in Utah and grew up in the Mormon Church. He seems to have always had some level of awareness that he was gay; certainly by the time he was sent to Portugal for his two years of missionary service he knew his orientation though he didn't yet act on it—that happened when he was at Brigham Young University, during a tour with a musical group called the Young Ambassadors. But the Church teaches that homosexuality is a sin, an aberration, something to be overcome, and so young Steven resolutely set about falling in love with a girl, getting married, and having children. Yet he knew he was still gay...
Eventually, matters in the Fales household reached a point of dysfunctional no-return: his wife Emily was unhappy and he was starting to roam. The emotional peak of Fales's one-man play Confessions of a Mormon Boy details his hearing before the Church disciplinary council, where he was excommunicated from the Church:
I knew they were not trying to talk Emily into working things out. In this case, divorce certainly seemed justified. And at the same time I knew some Church leader somewhere was counseling some gay young man to go ahead and get married. Another daughter in Zion would be sacrificed to straighten her husband out.
The second half of Confessions is about Steven's life after excommunication. Talk about a turnaround: he moved to New York, planning to fulfill his lifelong dream to become an actor in musical theatre. Instead, he quickly found work, first as a waiter and then as a male escort. Fales is nothing if not candid about his life as a prostitute, which earned him a great deal of money (all spent, apparently) and led him into a lifestyle full of rich johns, plentiful drugs, all-night clubbing, and a much reduced amount of self-respect. A self-help course helped him recognize this last point, and he tells us proudly at the end of his show that he's no longer escorting and that he's "starting to take a good hard look at my addictions. All of them. Ouch!"
No doubt, Fales has an interesting story to tell. He tells it compellingly enough in Confessions, which he wrote and which is directed skillfully by Jack Hofsiss; I'm just not sure why he's telling it in a theatre. For though Fales is always an engaging presence on stage, I never felt much of a connection between him and the audience or between him and the material: he reminded me of a motivational speaker more than an actor finding an authentically theatrical way to make his autobiography resonant. I was aware of withheld information (why did his parents divorce and how did that make him feel? where are his wife and kids now and how do they feel about him baring all, figuratively, night after night in the theatre?).
I was also, most problematically, aware of an inward focus that never wavers: "Then September Eleventh hit. No reservations were being made for my bed and breakfast. And I wouldn't be needed to cater. All parties were canceled."
Confessions left me cold: the story may be true, but it isn't particularly inspiring, and the connections that might have made it so just aren't there. That reference to the poor Mormon wife being "sacrificed" to straighten out her confused husband is delivered almost in passing in Fales's script. Confessions, finally, is Fales's confessional, and not much more; this is the stuff of a lucrative book deal and an Oprah appearance, not of drama.
A final note: Fales might want to clean up the latently racist patches—the long story about his first escorting client, a very stereotypical old Japanese man; the Latina receptionist at the health clinic—before he hits the talk show circuit.