Primal elements themed the latest installment of the New Play Project's series of short plays, adding to fire and rain the fundamental of faith. These were no morality tales, no Sunday school homilies. As good drama should, these amateur productions explored and experimented. Diverse in theme and approach, they once again proved the viability and growing maturity of amateur LDS theater. (See also my review of their last round of plays from July, 2008)
Although the LDS faith of the playwrights and directors in these plays was often apparent, it was more a starting than an ending point. John Milton once said, "The light which we have, was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge." If the restored gospel of the Latter-day Saints was that light for these artists, then it proved a liberal muse. This was most evident in playwright Katherine Gee's "Based on True-ish Stories" (a flaccid title to a tight play). The lead character, a Catholic about to elope with a Mormon, experiences a series of flashbacks regarding the development and trial of her faith, ultimately leading her to reject her fiancee because she has learned to take more seriously her patchwork faith journey. Atheism, old-school Catholicism, Judaism, various shades of Mormonism, Islam--all were represented by friends and acquaintances whose own tensions with their faiths created not a matrix of cynicism but a fabric of faith. The Muslim character stated it best in recounting part of the Islamic beliefs: "It may just be a story, but you must respect the story." I felt respect in this play for those of whatever faith who "respect the story" of their religions. This is why it worked when at the end the lead character felt that she could not cavalierly marry someone of another faith; respect for faith comes through some kind of fidelity to some kind of religion. In recounting this theme it sounds more relativistic than it came across in the drama. It was not "to each his/her own faith"; it was more about the persistence of people taking faith seriously--or perhaps faith taking people seriously. Director Matthew Greene deftly managed the criss-crossing flashbacks that spanned many years and countries through a choreography of blocking and lighting that was lyrically smooth--the theme kept its coherence despite the whiplash-inducing scene changes. It is the closest approximation of Joycean stream-of-consciousness I have ever seen on the stage. While the play could have been accused of being something of an essay in dramatic form, it remained compelling from start to finish, seasoned with humorous encounters such as one character critiquing another's narrowmindedness on religion, saying, "You can't say, 'That's wrong'--that's wrong!"