Wednesday, April 20, 2011
New York, April 2011 - Day Six, "The Book of Mormon"
When “The Last Temptation of Christ” was released, many mainstream churches were in an uproar over a scene near the end of the film that depicts Christ living a life as husband to Mary Magdalene and father to their children. Blasphemy to even suggest that the Lord God was getting a little! That He could have a human side. There were protests outside theaters and the movie studio; people carried signs and promoted boycotts.
To my mind, Christian churches were missing a huge opportunity. Because when I watched the film, it nearly converted me. That scene of Jesus as a family man was the last temptation of the title. Satan’s final ploy to get Christ to give up all this “redeeming mankind” bullshit was to show him the happiness of an ordinary life: someone who loves you. Children to carry part of you on into the future. It could all be yours, Satan says. But Jesus lets himself be crucified anyway. For us! To give miserable losers like we humans a shot at eternal life. That’s the sort of guy people could accept as their personal savior.
There hasn’t been much protest over the massively profane “The Book of Mormon,” currently playing at the Eugene O’Neill Theater (the LDS Church released a one-sentence statement*, then wisely refrained from contributing to the publicity machine), but I can’t imagine it’s going to be on the itinerary for any church field trips, Mormon or otherwise.
Which is a shame. Not just because “The Book of Mormon” is the funniest thing on Broadway in a long, long time, maybe ever, but because it’s also maybe the most faith-promoting thing on Broadway ever. Or at least since the cancellation of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”
Don’t get me wrong – it’s also the most blasphemous thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve been witness to some serious blasphemy. It’s profane, but not in the near-constant manner of David Mamet or “Deadwood." But when it is profane, it’s so over the top that it makes profane look like amateurfane. And as far as pushing the limits of taste and probity, I have seven words for you: Hitler. Gets. A. Blow. Job. In. Hell.
And though it skewers Mormonism (with the sharpest kebab on the block) its underlying message is this: it doesn’t matter if it’s made up. Faith – even in a fiction – has value if it brings people together in a community and helps them be nicer to each other. As one of the songs says, “a Mormon just believes.” So does every pious Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain…and ultimately even every physicist. We all must, because nothing adequately explains why we’re here. And why we have the capacity to ask that question in the first place. Sure, it would be easier if there were some physical evidence of a supreme being, but as one of the characters says, the requirement for faith is “sort of what God was going for.”
But if you’re not in the mood for a faith-promoting musical, feel free to enjoy “The Book of Mormon” for any (or all) of its other compelling aspects. I think I’ve already mentioned that it’s funny. Silly funny, smart funny, gross funny…funny funny. The songs are bouncy and engaging, the cast is terrific…it works on all levels.
It just won’t work for all people. If you can’t see past the profanity and blasphemy to the soft, creamy center, if you’d rather be offended than entertained, try one of Broadway’s other options. “Anything Goes” for example. It’s also an A+ production, has better songs, and pretty much zero chance of offending.
*"The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."