Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity in Glendale for One More Night
The setup: In theater, maybe even more than in the other performing arts, getting work or being successful (by whatever one's standard for that is) often seems to be a matter of luck and the accumulation of years of chance meetings. Brelby Theatre Company is currently presenting Ben Abbott's play Prodigy, through Saturday, November 16. The only reason the company knows of the script's existence is that a current Brelby actor still has his copy from a California reading some years back. "Something tells me it's not usually that easy," Abbott writes in his blog.
Inquisitive Productions Ben Abbott in Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity
In the meantime, Abbott's developed a one-man ethnographic performance, Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity, which won Producer's Pick of last summer's Cincinnati Fringe Festival. He was able to visit the Valley to see Prodigy, and Brelby was able to offer him a midweek slot to share Questions of the Heart for a couple of nights: last night and tonight.
See also: PHX:fringe Opening Weekend: Confessions of a Mormon Boy and Schreibstück
While I was interviewing Abbott about Prodigy for New Times' Night & Day section, it became apparent that he's a compassionate, intelligent person who, having studied and worked as an actor and made tons of gay friends, became curious how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the source of the faith community that he and his family find so fulfilling, could deny that love, joy, and fellowship to homosexuals -- to the extent that the church officially supported California's Prop 8 and got worldwide attention for being perceived as not just a little "weird," as he describes it, but hateful, which made him sad and even more determined to look for answers.
Abbott admits on stage that it was disingenuous of him, a heterosexual, seventh-generation Mormon, not to consider the issues of gay Mormons sooner -- why wouldn't gay children be born into Mormon families as often as any other kind of family? -- but that's the way people's lives unfold: We take a lot for granted until we can't avoid confronting it face to face. Which might be at just the time we've acquired the resources to address it.
And so this young actor/writer came to interview a dozen people for a master's thesis project at UC Berkeley that's since been reconceived, with the assistance of director Mark Kamie, to be more theatrical and less academic, and has now been presented three other places. The show's also slotted for the FRIGID New York festival in early 2014.
The execution: Abbott is a tall, gangly, good-looking actor who's equally affecting when portraying himself as when he slips into the personae of the people he interviewed. (He inserted himself as a character when Kamie helped him realize audiences needed some grounding in Mormon lifestyle and beliefs -- why it's a church people tend to be so conflicted about considering leaving.)
It's not a flashy, entertaining show per se but rather a way for a person who feels a personal call to promote human progress -- who believes that, as he quotes archeologist Howard Winters,
Civilization is the process in which one gradually increases the number of people included in the term "we" or "us" and at the same time decreases those labeled "you" or "them" until that category has no one left in it.
-- to present an unstinting overview of part of the world as it is and ask the audience to join him in making it better, stopping short of getting obnoxious about it. And it seems only fair, when reviewing QotH, to include some of the background material Abbott provides the audience with.