A DIFFERENT SET OF RULES
by Mahonri Stewart
So this is not some snazzy, official list with criteria, rubrics, or voting committees. This is just my personal, gut-feeling-favorite Mormon Arts contributions that I have experienced this year. This also doesn’t mean that it was even published or produced in 2012… these are works/artists that I have personally encountered this year (or so). So keep that in mind as I submit “Mahonri Stewart’s Personal Mormon Arts Favorites of 2012!” (Which may or may not become an annual tradition, depending on how lazy I am next year).
FAVORITE MORMON PLAY: MELISSA LEILANI LARSON’S MARTYRS’ CROSSING
So, beyond what I’ve seen my Zion Theatre Company produce this year, I haven’t had a chance to see much Mormon Drama in 2012 since I live in Arizona (kind of pathetic since I’m supposed to be the Mormon Drama expert around here). I can’t visit Utah on a whim to see the rare Mormon themed play that comes around (or, this year, New York with #MormonInChief!), but what I have done this year is read a bunch of older Mormon plays to finish my editing for Saints on Stage. Since one of those plays was produced again this year, I am choosing Melissa Leilani Larson’s Martyrs’ Crossing, which has been getting great reviews at the Echo Theatre in Provo. I saw BYU’s production of the show years ago and read it again this year, and it’s as beautiful and vibrant as I remember it. Melissa is one of Mormonism’s best playwrights and, although I would call Little Happy Secrets her best work so far, Martyrs’ Crossing is a personal favorite, much due to Mel’s beautiful writing and to my love for Jean d’Arc… who I may tackle a play about some day as well, although it would be pretty different than Mel’s take. Mel keeps beating me to the punch on stories that I love, including Jane Austen’s Persuasion and her upcoming adaptation of my all time favorite novel, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Despite that personal frustration, I can’t but help look at these works and say, “Well, at least Mel wrote it, because it’s beautiful.”
FAVORITE MORMON PLAYWRIGHT: MATTHEW GREENE
Although I haven’t seen or read it, just the fact that Matthew Greene was able to get a Mormon themed play up in major a New York fringe festival is nothing to sniff at. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews for #MormonInChief, but I admire Matthew (who was in BYU’s WDA Workshop with me several years ago) for really jumping into the New York theater scene and progressing the cause of Mormon Drama. He’s also got an upcoming play coming soon to Plan-B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City called Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Matthew is getting some real traction in his career as a dramatic writer and I believe it’s well deserved. more
Read them and weep, people. I’m so winning that Kindle…
Zombie Porter Rockwell sniffed the air. The smell of singed hair slowly triggered the synapses in his decaying brain. He needed brains soon. But he had business to take care of first. He was on the trail of Cain, and this time, he was going to take the hairy wanderer out.
He jiggled the tank strapped to his chest. It sloshed reassuringly — still at least half full. His bulbous, unblinking eyes scanned the dessert. Cain had managed to survive P-Rock’s trap, but little did the large-footed fellow know that fire, which was his only weakness, was now portable. Zombie Porter sniffed the air again and fell into a jerky, but surprisingly fast lope. It was bbq time and [MORE]
The rain always made her sad. It reminded her of her grandmother. It also reminded her of her dead husband. And that cat she had had for two weeks in seventh grade. The rain was coming down in sheets now. It made her feel like the world was crying. She was crying too. But even though she was crying, she knew that she was not alone. The footprints in the sand were not hers. The battered violin that was her soul could still produce a beautiful tune in the master’s hands. So she decided to cheer herself up by firing up her Provo Craft cricut and breaking out her brand new six-inch by 13-inch Cuttlebug Cutting Mats. [MORE]
Truth was a complex, ever-evolving thing for an educated man like Walter C. Habermavinaseiggeridastraullard. Nuance was his watchword. Context his Title of Liberty. Which was why he spent so much time commenting on blogs.
Walter loved his fellow Saints with a pure love, but he also knew that too many of them were in danger of having their simplistic testimonies fall to pieces at the slightest breeze of opposition, the tiniest crack in the correlated shell. In short, they were in need of maturation, and it was up to him to be the sunshine, the water and the soil — not to mention also taking the role of the fertilizer, the pruner and the grafter. [MORE]
(Obviously these aren’t really my entries. Revealing the real ones would be against the rules. Also: you have two weeks to polish up your entries and get them in.)
MORMON DRAMA SPOTLIGHT
Every month I also plan on setting little spotlights on little news items and tidbits about Mormon Drama along with the monthly Scripting Mormon Drama spot. So here goes our first crop of notables for the month of January:
- The Book of Mormon Musical… by the creators of South Park!
Some of us who have had the misfortune of seeing one of Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s strangely malicious AND strangely affectionate lampoons about Latter-day Saint religion, history, and culture on their irreverent and crude show South Park . At least the tongue in cheek South Park segment about the people in hell being told, “The correct answer was… the Mormons,” has some healthy appreciation among Mormons and is often quoted with nervous laughter. There is also a relatively positive spin on Mormon family life and FHE in one episode, but their distorted and erroneous version of Mormon history shows Martin Harris as a duped idiot, with Lucy Harris being the smart one (of course neglecting to mention that Martin Harris and the three witnesses report to seeing the plates and an angel) and showing Joseph Smith as a charlatan offends Mormon sensibilities, making us all seem as much of stupid dupes as their version of Martin Harris. And don’t get me started on their “Super Friends” spoof of creating a super hero team out of major religious figures, including Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Mohammed (at least we’re not the only ones in their cross hairs). Parker and Stone were also the creators of the purportedly filthy film Orgasmo, about an LDS missionary who becomes a porn star to pay for his mission (uh… what?!). So for some of us, the news about Parker and Stone making a Broadway musical about Mormons came with a certain amount of dread and morbid curiosity.
I’ve had my high school students authoritatively quote these twisted, offensive segments to me as if they were true, penetrating exposes on Mormonism, so I’m a little afraid of where these two creators’ morbid fascination with our religion is going to take them this time and how it will again capitalize on us for a few cheap laughs and some dirty jabs. Of course, they’ll do it while stating it with enough of a smile and sense of pretended understanding that will illicit comments like this from Vogue Magazine:
“It is, hands down, the filthiest, most offensive, and—surprise—sweetest thing you’ll see on Broadway this year, and quite possibly the funniest musical ever.”
Here’s a couple of news items about the upcoming show (which begins Feb. 24th), including a filmed interview with Trey and Parker with the New York Post:
The premise of the musical: two Mormon missionaries serving in Africa, seems benign enough until it’s revealed that one of them is a closet homosexual (of course pairing Mormons with this divisive issue hasn’t been done before! Here we go again…) and until you realize that nothing by these two satirists is ever benign.
New Play Project’s Two Upcoming Plays: He and She Fighting, A Love Story and WWJD
On a happier note, New Play Project continues its commitment to producing new Mormon Drama, with upcoming plays by Eric Samuelsen and Anna Christina Kohler Lewis. more
My play Farewell To Eden, which has its closing performances this Friday, Saturday (matinee and evening, and Monday) at the Provo Theatre (105 East, 100 North in Provo), has been getting some good press. As some shameless self promotion and a plug for the closing performances, I wanted to share a couple of the positive reviews.
First, one from AML’s Nan McCulloch, who is one of my favorite theatre reviewers (and not just because she’s generally very supportive of my plays). Nan’s just one of the more insightful and intelligent theatre critics I’ve come across… and it doesn’t hurt that she always seems to “get” my plays. :] Here’s the link to her review on the AML discussion board:
Second, one from the Deseret News. For the record, although the reviewer Sharon Haddock thought the play lacked some “hope,” I would respectfully disagree. I just think the hope in the play is more subtle than she would have liked… perhaps she would have preferred a more wrapped up ending, so we’ll just have to disagree artistically. Otherwise, she was very complimentary. Here’s the link:
For those who are interested in seeing the closing performances, you can make reservations by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org , with your name, how many tickets you want, and for which performance you want. Performances start at 7:30 on evenings, and 2 pm for the matinee.
For those of you keeping track: this year I read sixty-eight books (if you don’t include the Calvin and Hobbes and Fox Trot compilations I skim while brushing my teeth and the countless picture books I’ve read my kiddos) and twenty-four of them were Mormon–not quite as many as last year and not enough of them are Mormon classics, but I still stumbled on to some really satisfying reads. Here’s my ranking of the Mormon books I encountered during 2009. (Here’s my 2008 list.) Just in case any of you are still looking for Christmas gifts I’ve conveniently linked the titles to Amazon.com (which means if you buy them after clicking through from AMV some of your money will support the hosting costs for our site! Thanks in advance!!).
Books I wish I owned:
Byuck by our very own Theric, er, I mean, Eric Jepson. This is the best link I could conjure up for this quirky never-published novel about the fight to stay single while attending BYU. So sad it never made it into print. Maybe if we’re all really nice Theric will serialize it on his blog!
Slumming by Kristen D. Randle (To read my interview with Randle click here.) What I loved about this book was how uncompromisingly Mormon it was and how uncompromisingly national market it was. Okay. It wasn’t exactly Gossip Girl, but the fact that the book works in both worlds made me so happy.
Breaking Rank by Kristen D. Randle. This one had closet Mormons but the teenage protagonist’s decision making process was so true to teenage Mormons. I loved it.
The Year My Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery by Kathryn Lynard Soper. If you know a Mormon mommy who loves memoirs and haven’t bought this book yet for her, then now is the time. Seriously beautiful book.
Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. I read this one for an ecobiography writing seminar and I was glad. TTW is a controversial and watershed figure not only in Mormon environmental writing but also in Mormon feminist writing and Mormonism as a culture and not just a religion. This book, part memoir and part ecology lesson, is a great place to start with her.
Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen. This book really pushed my litmus test, making me extremely uncomfortable in the process, but I felt like it was done artfully and purposefully and that made me glad. Read my interview with Todd Robert Petersen for more.
The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Douglas Thayer. This book about a California teen’s summer in the heartland of Mormonism is the novel that will shut the mouth of all the your Mormon fiction naysaying friends. Beautifully written, intensely thoughtful, this is one that demands repeat readings.
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. For you readers who love teen fiction (it’s okay to admit it; I do too!) or just enjoy having a thought provoking book to read with your kids, this creative amalgam of Norse mythology and the Cupid/Psyche myth will delight. George is popular for her Dragon Slippers series and if you liked those you will LOVE this one.
The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull. I love tween literature that encourages questioning and viewpoint broadening without being all Lord of the Flies or One Fat Summer about it. By creating an old lady of dubious motivations who makes candies that give kids super powers Mull does a great job of entertaining and pushing kids to think about consequences without preaching or settling for easy answers. I’m still waiting for a ten year old to read this book so I can chat with them about it. Really well done.
Books that were worth the inter-library loan:
Benediction: a Book of Stories by Neal Chandler. (Not everyone loves this book. A lot of people find it offensive. But I thought it was such a great parody of some of the wilder small town personalities I grew up with. Read my original post here.)
The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle. (Basically a novelization of the old “Cipher in the Snow” story. Interesting!)
Secrets by Blaine M. Yorgason (Quintessential Deseret Book “issue” novel. Tackles an important subject but tends to gloss over the difficulties.)
People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture by Terryl L. Givens (Probably the most important book for Mormon culture scholars and you should read it. But you might not tackle it more than once.)
A FUTURE FOR TOMORROW – Surviving Anorexia – My Spiritual Journey by Haley Hatch Freeman (Read my original review here. I also believe that this book should not be read without also reading Michael Greenberg’s Hurry Down Sunshine–just to give some context the psychotic break of it all.)
Books that are worth reading if someone hands it to you:
Circle Dance by Sharlee Mullins Glenn
Hold On, the Light Will Come: And Other Lessons My Songs Have Taught Me by Michael McLean
River Secrets (The Books of Bayern)River Secrets (The Books of Bayern, #3) by Shannon Hale
Austenland: A Novel by Shannon Hale
Dragon Flight (Dragon Adventures) by Jessica Day George
All this has got me wondering, what Mormon books did you read this year and what did you think? Any you enjoyed enough to shell out money for? I need recommendations for next year!
Back in 2005, I posted a semi-humor piece called First lines for Mormon fiction. Back in June or somewhereabouts, it occurred to me that that same concept would be fun to use the motleyvision Twitter account for. I created the hashtag (a way to tag posts in Twitter) #LDSfic1stlines and started posting. A couple of other Twitter users thmazing (otherwise known as Theric Jepson) and chosha also got in on the act.
Twitter’s search functionality is kinda messed up (a bit ironic since the service just signed real-time search deals with both Bing and Google), but I was able to painstakingly grab most of the LDSfic1stlines that have been posted so far and have reproduced them below (not necessarily in chronological order). Here they are for your enjoyment — feel free to post your own in the comments or on Twitter (just make sure to use the hashtag so I’ll see them — or direct them to @motleyvision):
Wm: One fateful year, the Nielsens, as a show of solidarity with their Lutheran neighbors, gave up Jell-O for Lent.
Th: Porter Rockwell took a swig of his nonalcoholic whiskey and shyly waved at a lovely (yet modest) professional dancer. more
Sunday’s New York Post gossip column, Page Six, contained an item I can identify with, because several of my relatives don’t seem to like New York, where I live. Elna Baker’s mother worried when her daughter headed to NYU for college instead of BYU, warning her to beware of smoking, drinking, drugs, homosexuality and exotic dancing in sin-filled New York City. Elna says, “I left thinking, ‘Great, my mom thinks I’m moving to the big city to become a lesbian stripper.’ ”