The Book of Mormon hits town with its award-winning satire ready to inject some South Park silliness into Atlanta’s winter.
By Jason Mietelski
It’s irreverent. It’s snarky. It’s blatantly caustic and uproariously funny. And it’s trodding the boards now at Fox Theater.
No one is safe in the Tony Award winning The Book of Mormon. The satire by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone pokes fun at just about every religious and mainstream establishment under the sun.
The play had its genesis in 2003, when the writing partners were living in Colorado and began to notice cultural references to Mormons. Their first musical comedy rips holes in what they see as blind faith in absurd notions in lieu of science and common sense. The show opened on Broadway in 2011 to rave reviews, and it even won a Grammy in addition to its nine Tonys.
The Book of Mormon does a masterful job with its comedic rendition of youthful, inexperienced missionaries who travel to Africa in an effort to rid the continent of starvation and AIDS by winning converts. But the play isn’t just a satire of Mormonism. Rather, it delves into the inconsistencies of all organized religion, calling into question blind faith in tenets set forth by the human creators of religion.
“I believe” is the recurring theme, especially for closeted and boyishly handsome Elder McKinley, expertly played by Daxton Bloomquist, who chooses to repress his sexual desire for men because he “believes” this is what God called him to do. When paired with handsome Elder Price, the sexually charged tension flares as the duo exhort Africans dying of AIDS to change their ways, follow them and simply “believe.”
Cody Jamison Strand, the gay actor who plays the comic Elder Cunningham, tells David Atlanta that LGBT audiences will relate directly and indirectly to the religious struggles in the show.
“Elder Cunningham is the beautiful disaster of The Book of Mormon,” Strand says. “He’s the wrench thrown into the Mormon equation. He wants so hard to achieve his goals. He’s a sweetie but he pushes everyone away. Take a toddler on crack—that is Elder Cunningham!”
But it’s Elder McKinley’s plot twists that really drive it home for gay audiences, Strand says.
“Elder McKinley has his own struggles, mostly because of guilt, if you know what I mean,” the actor continues. “He has a whole tap-dancing number about being who you really are, instead of keeping things secret. It’s hilarious, but it speaks to the struggle of coming out.”
It’s all ludicrous at one level, but that’s the point of parody. The cursing, sexual innuendo and irreverent humor are designed to garner uproarious laughter, but through all of the belly aching, the moral of the story touches a nerve about how blind faith in a world of logic, reasoning and empirical evidence.
Strand says that, as a gay man, he loves the show.
“It says so much about everything that needs to be talked about right now. Especially the state of organized religion and its impact on America. It catches people off guard, I think.”
Even with its lessons, the ultimate point of the show is to laugh. Humor can be a great tool to teach society just how ridiculous and outdated some of its beliefs truly are. It can even perhaps provide a vision through humor that can open our eyes—and mouths, in some cases —to a whole new world.
And The Book of Mormon nails it. Strand says it’s a wild ride but worth it.
“Just be prepared that we like to draw that line in the sand, then cross it – repeatedly!” he says. “Come with an open heart, ready to laugh, knowing that we have the greatest message, and knowing you’ll have an awesome journey getting there.”