Not all Mormon musicals are created equal. Instead of the warm-hearted outrageousness of the Rialto’s Latter Day blockbuster, Barrington Stage’s premiere production of “Mormons, Mothers and Monsters,” presents itself as an intimate, seriocomic clash of faith, family and fear — but the result is unfocused, uneven work.
Show is more akin to the psychological slap-and-tickle of a William Finn show. That’s not so surprising given that Finn is the Barrington summer musical lab’s artistic producer and the show’s writers are his students from NYU.
Trouble is the tuner, while it shows promising musical talent, doesn’t have the sophistication, complexity and thematic clarity to which it aspires. (Fear drives us as we grow up: OK. Momonism is awfully odd: Duh. Children will listen: Sure. Hot sex in a temple’s locker room can be sweet: Hmm.)
Thin story centers on the traumas of a rule-loving, eager-to-please, mama’s boy growing up in an unstable Mormon home in Pittsburgh. Show is told in a flashback by “Me” (played by a likable and nicely-voiced Stanley Bahorek) as he remembers his childhood from kindergarden to adolescence. Taylor Trensch plays the youth whose monster-under-the-bed fears develop during a series of failed marriages of his upbeat and increasingly maddening mother (Jill Abramovitz).
Adam Monley plays the boy’s imaginary demon in a gruff Cookie Monster voice that sabotages the notes. He is more successful as the succession of dubious husbands who are scary in their own way, but the real villain, it turns out, is the complicit, delusional mom.
But intent of show is unclear when it’s not simple-minded, and thesps are not always sure and strong. Helmer Adrienne Campbell-Holt pushes the perfs in the small house and busies four thesps with lots of business and movement to little effect.
Abramovitz comes across more as a Jewish mother than a Mormon one, but she gets little help from a script that never explores the character in a significant way. She lacks a song that tells her story, or at least her side, though the lovely “Sometimes Someone You Love” comes close.
And while Trensch has several touching moments (tune “In the Temple,” especially), it’s difficult to play extreme youth without seeming coy or idiotic. He is better as he grows older, and the work’s final scenes are its most human and interesting.
The show needs a major overhaul to make it special. But at least it introduces creators who can develop their talents in other projects.Musical numbers: “Mormons, Mothers and Monsters,” “God Made Everything Good,” “D.I.V.O.R.C.E,” “Underneath Your Bed,” “Mother Loves Her Son,” “Thank You For Family,” “Do the Same As Me,” “Sometimes Someone You Love,” “Number Three,” “Hump the Pole,” “In the Temple,” “BYU for Me,” “I’m Done Believing,” “You’ll Be Me”