"Confessions of a Mormon Boy" might appear to be a familiar coming-out-of-the closet story, a triumph of one's true nature over the stifling confines of a big, bad, backward religion. Shooting Latter-Day Saints in a barrel might be satisfying to some know-it-all New Yorkers, but what elevates this autobiographical one-man show to the next level is that it probes deeper.
Writer-star Steven Fales is appealing from the beginning: a good-looking, well-built man with the smooth voice of a trained actor, which he is. Fales felt homosexual urges early in life but, like a good Mormon, he got married and had two kids. To complicate matters, his wife was the daughter of Carol Lynn Pearson, a famous writer in the Mormon community whose autobiography, "Goodbye, I Love You," told how her own husband had turned out to be gay and infected with HIV.
When commuting from Connecticut to New York City to audition for acting jobs, Fales found too many temptations. So he moved his family to Utah and tried to change his sexuality via "reparative therapy." After he gets divorced and is banished from the church, his story follows him back to New York, where he becomes a high-priced gay escort.
There's a lot of ground to cover. Fales and director Jack Hofsiss keep things bouncing along quickly. Dramatic moments start to fly by. Fales' manner isn't sober and reflective; he's detached from his story, often flippant.
That is part of his point. Mormonism, he explains, teaches its followers to smile and press on despite the underlying pain, and Fales takes an analogous approach here. His intentions become clearer at the play's jolting climax, when the story takes a fascinating turn just as it is starting to drag.
Even after Fales is free to explore the New York gay scene, he realizes that playing fast and loose also has its limitations. When a prospective boyfriend doesn't call him back, he recalls "hugging time," a tradition he used to have with his kids. He wonders aloud, "I gave up hugging time for this?"
Fales knows that the conflict in his life isn't just homosexuality versus Mormonism. As in all good theater, the protagonist must confront his own shortcomings and overcome them.
CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON BOY. Written and performed by Steven Fales. Directed by Jack Hofsiss. At the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam St. between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street, Manhattan. Tickets $50 to $55. Call 212-691-1555 or visit www.mormonboy.com.
Seen February 1.