Steven Fales had all the makings of a “model” Mormon. A sixth-generation Utah Mormon who was a missionary in Portugal, he graduated from Brigham Young University, married the daughter of a famous Mormon writer, and fathered two children. The trouble is, Fales is gay, and he was forced to go through “reparative therapy” and was eventually excommunicated from the Mormon Church for being “gender-disoriented.” (Mormons believe that homosexuality can be cured because “God made no man a pervert.”) “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” unveils Fales’s painful journey from being a perfect Mormon to his subsequent sad life in New York as a male prostitute and drug addict. This dark, disturbing tale is as humorous as it is heartbreaking, and ultimately Fales learns to reclaim himself and his “Donny Osmond smile.”
Fales is a gifted and marvelously campy performer. He can quote verses from the Book of Mormon and then segue flawlessly into an old ABBA song or Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune. Originally performed as a stand-up comedy routine, “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” played to sold-out audiences in Salt Lake City and received much acclaim in San Francisco, Miami and Chicago. The latest production at the SoHo Playhouse is thoroughly engrossing. Director Jack Hofsiss (who won the Tony for “The Elephant Man”) keeps Fales’s quirky stories of religious brainwashing moving along at a razor-sharp pace. What is most unsettling is the fact that Fales spent a decade pretending to be a “straight” married father, and had to miserably live a lie all because of religion.
Ironically, Fales’s ex-wife, Emily, had a gay Mormon father. She is the daughter of Carol Lynn Pearson, best known for her autobiography “Good-Bye, I Love You,” a recounting of her relationship with her gay ex-husband who died of AIDS in her home. Fales recalls meeting his future mother-in-law in California before he got engaged to Emily. When he told Mrs. Pearson how moved he was by her book, she responded, “Well, Steven, if there’s anything we need to talk about on that subject, now would be a good time to do it.” Although Fales admitted to Emily that he had slept with men during his missionary days, she agreed to marry him as long as he would go through Mormon pre-marriage counseling. Church leaders assured Fales that he was doing the right thing, and that God would help him through it.
Fales moved his family to the East while he worked on getting a master of fine arts in acting at the University of Connecticut. He soon learned that working in the theater amongst so many “out” gay men might be hazardous to his eternal Mormon salvation. He quickly moved the family back to Utah, sought more expensive “reparative therapy” (financed by Mormon money), and continued to play it straight, but a divorce was inevitable. After being officially excommunicated by the Mormon Church and alienated from his family, Fales moved to New York. Once he got here, he couldn’t even find a decent job waiting tables. One night he saw a local “gay rag” and flipped to the sleazy ads for escorts in the back. He called an escort service for an interview and decided to do the job that “Mary Magdelene did before she met Jesus.” He thought it was okay to become a prostitute because “temple hookers were often considered sacred and holy in ancient times.” At this point, the show becomes unpleasant. Fales tells trashy stories of his hustling days that are nothing more than cheap sensationalism. Fales reveals how his life spiraled down even further as he became addicted to crystal meth and unsafe sex, and one begins to think the show is becoming a pedestrian cautionary tale about “Chelsea boys” and drugs. However, the show quickly redeems itself and has a surprising twist when the lights are turned on brighter and Fales shows us that he’s a middle-aged man, not the muscular Mormon “boy” we’ve think we’ve been watching the last 90 minutes. (You’ll have to see the show if you want to know exactly how he fools the audience.) We come to see this self-proclaimed “Mormon American princess” as someone who has learned to stop being a victim, to move beyond the fallacies of his religion, not indulge in self-destructive behavior, and to believe there is a God that understands human sexuality.