Just when you thought the gay coming-out tale had exhausted itself, Steven Fales’ solo show gives it a twist with the perspective of a Brokeback Mormon. But don’t expect much rueful angst of a Western soul trying to resist what local folks can’t abide. With a prepossessing smile, a musical-comedy persona and the fervor of a proselyte on a decidedly different mission, Fales’ “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” revels in his eventful autobiography while giving the audience only a shallow glimpse into the mysterious intersection of faith and sexuality.
Fales tells of his upbringing as a sixth-generation Utah Mormon and marriage into a celebrated church family, as well as his attempts at “reparative therapy,” excommunication and descent into prostitution and drugs. A final personal reveal at show’s end, however, may be the most shocking bit of self-exposure to the stylish SoHo aud.
Show opens with audio of the performer as a precocious 5-year-old improvising a song — “We Mormons record everything,” he says — suggesting that a predisposition to showbiz may have been in his genes all along. Dressed in a tight, white Brigham Young U. T-shirt for the early part of the show, the buff Fales is unrelenting in his charm, determination and smiles. “It’s the Mormon way,” he says.
Under helmer Jack Hofsiss, the bio-narrative zips along with few breaks for breath — or depth. There’s Fales’ missionary work in Portugal, a stint at a secular “humanist” graduate school and his efforts to change his “gender disorientation” via clinical hypnotherapy and psychology. A shovelful of irony arrives in his courtship and marriage to Emily Pearson, daughter of Mormon poet Carol Lynn Pearson, whose bestselling autobiography recounted her relationship with her gay ex-husband, who died of AIDS in her home in the ’80s.
The mood darkens slightly with recollections of Fales’ excommunication. It then shifts again when he becomes a latter-day sinner, embracing “my own personal Moulin Rouge” as a gay escort in New York City.
But the narrative becomes repetitive, sentimental and facile. Ongoing references to Fales’ smile grow wearisome. Likewise, his search for hugs and happiness and “a forever family” veers into the saccharine.
For all the seemingly frank revelations about his faith, addictions and sex life, many of the details of his life remain cursory and unexamined. His wife is a vague presence. When he tells her about his attraction to men, the scene is dispatched with “So we went to pre-marriage counseling and talked it through.” Other major incidents, too, are sketchy at best. A self-described “epiphany” that signals the first of his gay encounters during his marriage goes undescribed. And the climactic turnaround of his life that rescued him from drugs and despair is glibly summarized.
One senses a reluctance to delve too deeply into the details of faith and family (“Good times, good people!”), with Fales instead using charm and humor to hustle through the difficult parts.
The material, which began as standup (seen later at the New York Intl. Fringe Festival, where the show won an overall excellence award) is still rooted in the easy gag and the amusing observation. Some of the better ones are in Fales’ descriptions of Salt Lake City, “where Jews are considered gentiles,” where “it takes a village to make one straight” — a place so Republican that “Reagan was our Moses.”
Still, Fales is eminently likable and can be winning in his considerable force of charm (“Grit was in our genes,” he says of his pioneer ancestors). Show gets a rare blast of lyricism with his account of a dream that had him galloping on horseback over the Western land along with his male ancestors (an inviting Wyoming landscape by designer Tim Saternow).
It’s a lyrical moment — more grace and less will — that briefly shows the soul behind the smile.