Missionary Position: A Swiftly Paced Search for Identity

Categories: Stage

Missionary Position.jpg
Photo courtesy of Theatre LaB Houston
Steven Fales recounts his time as a Mormon missionary to Portugal.
The setup:

Theater LaB brings playwright/actor Steven Fales to Houston in his one-man show, Missionary Position, the second in his trilogy of autobiographical plays, after the sold-out success of the first installment, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, earlier this year.

The execution:

Theater LaB is perfect for the intimacy of this production, providing much of the feeling of being in a living room while a favored guest regales you with anecdotes. You are fond of the guest because he is attractive, fit, charming, vivacious, can deliver a punch line, sings well and moves like a dancer. And the fact that the anecdotes are interesting is simply the cherry on top of the charlotte russe.

Playwright Fales is a skilled and trained actor, and portrays himself here, entering dressed in casual wear, with a large clerical-gray plastic trunk in tow, from which props and garb emerge as needed. Some are photographs, some memorabilia, with almost all centering on Fales's two years as a missionary in Portugal for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, known in colloquial shorthand as the Mormon Church. The first play in the trilogy covered dramatic events: sexual awakenings, marriage and its failure, attempts at reparative therapy, excommunication, becoming a high-priced call-boy, and addiction to and recovery from crystal meth. This work is simpler, more like Spalding Gray's monologues, which delight in intense scrutiny of details, but Missionary Position remains nonetheless a compelling narrative, including the discovery of masturbation, related with wit and humor. The cement binding the two together is Fales's struggle with homosexuality while active in a religious organization which condemns it as anathema.

Though some may consider the work a slender reed, it holds interest surprisingly well for its swiftly paced 100 minutes -- there is no intermission. The reason for this success is that it speaks to an experience shared by all, the struggle to find and identify oneself. Even those whose life has not been touched by Mormonism or homosexuality may well have found themselves struggling to reconcile conflicting claims on their identity. The sociologist David Reisman in The Lonely Crowd from 1950 pointed out that we are compelled to choose between being tradition-directed, peer-directed or inner-directed. Fales had the tradition of his own father, whom he loved, and that of his Church and its elders, staking their claim, reinforced steeply by peer-associates, also Mormons, while his inner spirit screamed for escape. While the telling is amusing and sprightly, the situation so blithely related contains the seeds of this daunting dilemma. Fales was forced to ask himself: "Are you going to believe these towering figures of authority, or your lying gonads?" It took him awhile to find the answer.

The British poet William Wordsworth defined poetry as "emotion recollected in tranquility," and that is what Fales gives us here. Bitterness and confusion have been softened, and replaced by the objectivity and amusement of maturity. Fales is now 42, and these events took place more than two decades ago, but the silver peal of truth still rings true. The lighting changes help communicate shifts in mood, ably provided by Joe Fertitta, who also stage-managed. The third installment in the trilogy is called Who's Your Daddy? And I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find Theater LaB bringing it to us one of these days.

The verdict:

Interesting anecdotes about the Mormon Church's missionary attempts in Portugal are vividly described by an accomplished actor, who speaks from the heart, because he himself was that conflicted missionary.

Missionary Position continues through October 21 at Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo. For ticketing or information, call 713-868-7516 or contact the company website.

Location Info

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Theater Lab Houston

3522 White Oak, Houston, TX

Category: General

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