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Steven Fales Mormon Boy trilogy repertory premiere 

After 20 years, Steven Fales' autobiographical story of a gay Mormon experience still resonates.

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JOHN SKALICKY
  • John Skalicky

In 2001, writer/actor Steven Fales premiered his one-man show Confessions of a Mormon Boy at the Rose Wagner Center on Thanksgiving weekend. Twenty-one years later, he returned to the same stage on the same weekend—and the experience was surprisingly emotional.

"I broke down crying during previews at the Sunday matinee," Fales says by phone from his home in Palm Springs. "The show was coming back together, and I thought, 'This show changed my life. I think it saved my life.'"

Fales is celebrating a slightly pandemic-delayed 20th anniversary of Confessions of a Mormon Boy, which chronicled Fales' own experience coming out as gay while he was a married-with-children member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he's also bringing along two subsequently-written chapters in his personal story: Missionary Position, which addresses his LDS church mission in Portugal; and Prodigal Dad, dealing in part with a since-settled court case in which his ex-wife accused him of child abuse. The three shows will play in repertory this month, following previews of the individual shows.

Back in 2001, Fales recalls contemplating doing a theatrical version of his story; "I was walking in New York and thought, 'If you dare to write this, it will succeed.' When you get this inspiration, you have to follow through with it." The show was certainly a risky proposition—and not just because of its subject matter. Fales' ex-wife was Emily Pearson, and his ex-mother-in-law celebrated LDS writer Carol Lynn Pearson.

"I was living in New York at the time, and I thought, 'I'm going to premiere it in Salt Lake,'" Fales says. "'If I can do it there, I can do it anywhere.' I was so scared; the Church was right there, and I didn't know what kind of backlash I would get, bringing it to the fanbase of Carol Lynn Pearson."

"This was before The Book of Mormon," Fales adds. "I hate to toot my horn, but I think it's factual: I think I was the first gay Mormon to tell his story in any kind of mainstream, main-stage way."

The show turned out to be a smashing success, however, and Fales subsequently took Confessions of a Mormon Boy off-Broadway and around the world. What he discovered throughout his travels is that despite his story being about a "Mormon boy," it connected with people who had their own experiences coming out in other faith traditions. "In South Africa, all the Dutch Reform boys would come, and say it's their story," Fales says. "When you're doing it for the Mormons, you know it's recognized. When you're in Oslo, for the Muslim immigrants who escaped from Karachi that are in the audience? It proves that if we go in with specificity, it translates to universality. ... I didn't have to spoon-feed anybody or water anything down."

There were still more stories to tell, as it turned out, with Missionary Position premiering in Los Angeles in 2009, and Prodigal Dad following in 2014. They're also emotional, personal stories, dealing honestly with issues like his experience as a sex worker. But for Fales, the performances themselves aren't cathartic in the same way that actually getting the stories down was. "I have an MFA in acting; I can leave it right there [on the stage]," he says. "It's the writing of a new piece that scares you to death or challenges you."

That writing part is done how, however, leaving time to reflect on what has changed over the course of the past 21 years. When asked how the personal experiences Confessions of a Mormon Boy trilogy might have played out differently if they were unfolding in an era of marriage equality and greater queer visibility, Fales begins—characteristically—with a bit of humor: "Today, instead of a play, it would have been a bunch of TikTok things, fragments, and I might have a million followers."

But ultimately, he acknowledges that, sadly, the world he encountered while coming out and sharing his Confessions two decades ago hasn't changed nearly enough, making the shows still all-too-relevant. "You can never be a married gay person in the Mormon church," Fales says. "I think excommunication might be done less because I told my story. My family is completely recalcitrant, even after all these years. My father has come to the show, my mother has seen it, and they're still toeing the line. And it's the old line. It hasn't changed. There isn't a place for us. There wasn't 20 years ago, and there isn't now.

"So you have to forge ahead and decide, 'What do I create for myself?' I'm here to model that. ... I want to empower everyone to tell their story."

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