by Ed Malin · February 22, 2014
Playwrights on New Plays #45 Ed Malin shares his thoughts on Professor Ralph's Loss of Breath & Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and Me part of FRIGID new york I saw two interesting Frigid shows which, while very different, do share an interest in tradition (or the questioning thereof) and have running times of about one hour.
------------- From Kevin P. Hale and Playlab NYC (perhaps you saw their "Poe Dunk" in Frigid 2012 or "Blizzard '67" or an earlier version of this show in FringeNYC) comes Professor Ralph's Loss of Breath. Call it highly creative, fast-paced slapstick. Or perhaps call it a translation from the German of a neglected marionette masterpiece by legendary, absinthe-guzzling Vermont puppetry professor Ralph Williams. In any case, a mere century later the piece still resounds with amusing depictions of marital strife and other human weakness.
Mr. Lackobreath (Scott Michael Morales) just got married today, and already it feels like a century. (The wife and all the other parts are played by the versatile Robert Berliner, a master of quick, old-school costume changes.) Soon enough, Mr. Lackobreath stops calling his lovely wife "chickabiddy" and uses other once-curses like "shrew". Cursed with loss of breath, he is off on the road, where he meets, yes, the Devil. There follow troubles with a doctor and troubles with the law. The action doesn't let up, and neither does the humor. There are plenty of snippets from the American Songbook to entertain while this journey of the underdog unfolds.
It is a story which may make you laugh at a stage version of yourself or someone you know. When I saw the play, there were several giggling children in the audience; that shows the appeal of the jokes, which cannot be said to have gotten old. Robert Leeds, "the first person to receive a diploma from Ecole Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris Marcel Marceau" is the Special Movement Advisor for the show. John Pieza's fight choreography is also indispensable.
Ben Abbott's show Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and Me is a mind-opening theater experience as well as the only play known to have been performed in a Mormon church and a gay bar. Mr. Abbott created the show as his master's thesis at UC Berkeley. Raised Mormon (a.k.a. LDS) and surrounded by acting colleagues, he experienced the reactions to marriage equality in California "from both sides". But then the question arose, what if one is both Mormon and queer? Is it advisable to stay in the church and hide one's sexual identity, or attempt heterosexual marriage to try to belong? Mr. Abbott interviewed dozens of people, whom he portrays in the show.
It is a beautiful, balanced exploration of what love means to different people. Arguably, Mormonism comes from its founders' quest to find their path to the truth. There is much love on this path. But how does it feel to be told that your feelings are unnatural and unwelcome in the community which raised you?
Playwright and poet Carol Lynn Pearson is one of the many creative Mormons referenced in the show. I'm going to run out and read her memoir "Goodbye, I Love You" about her marriage to her homosexual husband and subsequent advocacy for understanding within the Latter Day Saints Church.
I feel like seeing this wonderful show again. Mark Kamie's direction brings out many distinct voices in a compelling way. Ben Abbott, who spends the beginning of the show putting on a suit, comes across as sincere and devoted to truth and understanding. If you've never heard what it's like to enjoy being one of nine children in a Mormon family, descendant of many generations of Mormons, here is an excellent opportunity. By the way, tickets are $12 with a $3 discount if you're Mormon and Gay.