Few coming out stories are entirely pleasant. Fewer still involve a slippery slope from excommunication to the sex industry. That is the true story that Steven Fales wants to share on the Bay Street Theater stage.
Fales’ autobiographical one-man show, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, made its off-Broadway debut in 2006 under the guidance of Director Jack Hofsiss. In it, Fales tells his complex story of extremes: from acting as a model Mormon to suffering through gay conversion therapy, being excommunicated for homosexuality, getting divorced, losing custody of his kids and becoming involved with drugs and prostitution in Manhattan.
After Hofsiss died in 2016, Fales was unsure if Confessions could go on without him, but he was determined to continue sharing his story. “How could I let The Book of Mormon be the last word?” he says. Then he met Bay Street Artistic Director Scott Schwartz, and he knew that this was the man he needed at the helm of his play, to breathe new life into it. “Schwartz helped me find the missing beats,” Fales adds. The updated version includes a more in-depth look at his relationship with his ex-wife, actor/writer/producer Emily Pearson, current politics and fresh jokes, and it’s ultimately more accessible to the audience, which is of great importance to Fales. Always looking for feedback after performances, he loves nothing more than to hear that sharing his story helped someone unlock their own. “The human connection is why I keep doing it,” he shares. “Your story is as important as any story ever told, and you can use it to change the world or just one person who needs to hear it.”
Confessions of a Mormon Boy is the first musical in The Mormon Boy Trilogy, which was followed by its prequel Mission Statement (previously titled Missionary Position) and sequel Prodigal Dad. Schwartz and Fales are preparing the trilogy for its off-Broadway debut, where the plays will be performed in repertory. Fales says performing each play one after another every day will be an incredible feat, and he looks forward to the challenge, saying “It’s kind of like my Olympics.” Bay Street will host special, $10 readings at Whalers Church of the second and third plays after Confessions concludes its short run. Mission Statement will be read on Sunday, July 22 at 7 p.m. and Prodigal Dad on Monday, July 23 at 4 p.m.
The trilogy remains relevant today because it illuminates the truth behind the “truth” found in topics that are still largely taboo, including Mormon temple ceremonies, New York human trafficking and the soul-crushing pressure that many LGBT people from religious homes feel before and during the coming out process. Even though that marginalized minority has more rights than ever, Fales argues, “It’s not about the quantity of rights, but the quality of life.” The play doesn’t end in despair though. Fales gets his life straight, reconnects with his kids and integrates his gay identity with his faith, which he admits will always be at least partly Mormon. “We can’t stay in anger forever, or it will eat us up,” he warns.
That advice is one of the clues that Fales included in his plays to help his two grown children navigate today’s world, describing the trilogy as a “valentine to my children” and adding that “they’re the real heroes of the story.” In fact, had his mother-in-law Carol Lynn Pearson not made him a footnote in her own memoir, he probably wouldn’t have written anything. He explains that he wanted his kids to know their father in his own words and adds, “I didn’t want to be erased.”
Fales is currently working on a book expanding The Mormon Boy Trilogy called Oxy-Mormon Memoirs. In it, he seeks to delve into the white space of the plays and take an honest look at some of the stories that couldn’t be displayed on the stage.
Confessions of a Mormon Boy will enjoy five performances (July 17–22) at Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor, 631-725-9500, baystreet.org