Friday, January 02, 2015

I Don't Remember How I Got Here

The second act of "The Book of Mormon" starts out with Elder Price, appearing onstage looking absolutely elated as he excitedly glances around. Behind him, a huge backdrop is revealed showing a jumping orca, tourist trap signs, a roller coaster, palm trees and The Magic Kingdom's Cinderella's Castle. Oh, and a sign for Putt-Putt Golf.

Of course, we, the ACTUAL Orlando audience erupt in applause and hoots of laughter.

Elder Price's initial awe is soon replaced by confusion though as he admits he can't recall how he arrived here, in his dream city. He slowly becomes aware that he is, in fact, dreaming.

As he starts to stumble around in befuddlement, I start to wonder how many of us in this audience here at the brand-spanking new Dr. Philip's Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando wonder the same thing...how did we get here?

Often times, I've contemplated that very same question myself.

So obviously, I went to the New Year's Eve showing of "The Book of Mormon" and aside from the above hilarious scene, the musical was indeed a really nice treat. Great melodies, great acting and superb dancing and singing skills displayed all 'round. But was it the funniest musical comedy I'd ever seen? Was it the best? Um, not really.

Let's face it. It is what it is. The product of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of "South Park." And, as to be expected, the sight gags, the jokes and spirit of the show was pure South Park-ian. Now I'm no snob or prude. I love a good belly laughing, rolling on the floor guttural or low-brow joke as much as the next person. But a certain part of me did cringe a little during certain numbers that frankly I do think may be a bit much for musical theater.

I know I'm not the only one to feel this way. I saw at least one couple walk out before the end of the performance. Perhaps they were offended at the jabs this show took at religion? I don't know. For me, that wasn't a concern so much. It was, for me, a little like having a blue comedy act at a theme park. Not the most appropriate venue. Like as if there was a costumed character act in one of the Disney World theaters where Mickey says "You know how I make Minnie scream when I make love? I call her on the phone and describe it to her!" Pat-um Pum - Tsssh. (rimshot)

But I successfully squelched these slightly squeamish feelings and let myself go. 'Cause this show ain't for those too rigid or buckled down. It ripped apart polite society and got down to brass tacks really fast. Fuck the fact that we were actually in the family vacation center of the world, this show was NOT for any fuckin' kiddies! And if you were in town to visit the Holyland Experience theme park..you best not see this.

The first act began with a medley introducing the audience to the culture of Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) ultra-organized proselytization in a way many are already familiar with...a ring of the front doorbell. ("Hello") Okay enough little ditty but it did nothing to introduce us to the main characters to help us formulate feelings towards who they were. This lack of empathy for the characters, IMHO, would run throughout and it diminished some of the impact of many of the events in the show.

If character development had been more successful, we may have been more sympathetic to nagging truths like why the young elders felt compelled to stay within the Church despite clearly expressed negatives like a ridiculous historical mythology, a fostering of a self-centered, entitled, competitive attitude ("You And Me (But Mostly Me)")("All-American Prophet") and a peer-pressure imposed compartmentalization and squelching of emotions and individual diversity ("Turn It Off")

And let's not leave out the trump card for many-a-religion, the threat of everlasting pain and suffering for non-conformers ("Spooky Mormon Hell Dream")

But of course this is High Parody so no one should expect that REAL Mormon youths struggle quite so honestly and frankly as these characterizations. Or that Africa is that bad. Right?

I guess in a way this last statement hits home as to what I felt the show really lacked...sympathy for some of the real suffering hinted at in the jokes.

There ARE gay Mormon boys who live a painful life for fear of stigmatization and isolation from those they love, never mind the whole "burning in Hell" bullshit.

There IS a Western white elitist mentality, especially encouraged by organized religion, that treats Black Africans as mere savages to be converted rather than fellow humans needing real life-changing, here-and-now help.

There IS a severe AIDS crisis among African blacks and a lack of scientific education which would help reduce its rampant spread.

Should we sit in our comfy theater seats in a glitzy $386 million complex laughing at these REAL WORLD issues? Silly religious dogma riddled with lies, dangerously backward church officials striving to oppress whatever they wish weren't real, warlord atrocities, unchecked continent spanning poverty, blind racism, the ongoing AIDS pandemic, forced genital mutilation, tribal genocide, dysentery, factional warfare...

Oh, wait a minute. Now I get it!

The world seems so much easier if you BELIEVE you live in someplace like, well, Orlando, a city of make-believe where nothing bad ever happens. ("I Believe") But, excepting for the coincidence that this musical is performing in the real-life Orlando, we actually live in a REAL world. One in which all those bad things, ARE happening.

And making shit up ("Making Things Up Again") isn't going fix a fucking thing in the long term.

Especially if you have maggots in your scrotum.

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