Vincent Mastromatteo

Faith still food for the stage

By  Vincent Mastromatteo, Youth Speak News
  • October 17, 2014

TORONTO - I expected much worse when I sat down recently to watch The Book of Mormon musical at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre.

Being familiar with the work of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and their popular South Park television program, I knew I’d be in for profanity, vulgarity, crudeness and above all, a steady ridicule of anything to do with religious faith.

The Book of Mormon has been praised as “the best musical of the century” and as “a crowning achievement” by most critics in the mainstream media. But as a young Catholic trying to take my Christian faith somewhat seriously, I was curious to find out just how far its creators would go in exploiting religion for the sake of cheap laughs. And in that sense, I very much got what I expected.

The Book of Mormon is indeed profane, vulgar and crude, and it has a gleeful time poking fun at organized religion, especially in this case, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons. But to be honest, it’s also funny, and I couldn’t help being entertained and amused by the talented actors in the Toronto production.

But I got something more from the musical. The story is based on the hapless exploits of a pair of Mormon missionaries in strife torn, impoverished Uganda. Their efforts to find converts among the natives are met with hostility and ridicule by a people struggling against famine, disease, poverty and the brutal oppression of a local warlord.

It is only when one of the missionaries takes liberties with Mormon scripture — starts making up parables to explain the meaning of suffering and the need for belief — that he starts to win a receptive audience.

To avoid plot spoiling, I won’t go into further detail about the story and its unlikely conclusion. I will say, though, that I came away from the musical with mixed feelings. To be sure, the Mormon church, and in effect, all organized religion, are battered in this play. At the same time however, I got the sense that the creators, for all their mockery and satirizing, grudgingly admit there are real benefits to a sincere faith.

Parker, one of the creators, has described his work as “an atheist’s love letter to religion.” This suggests to me there is more at work here than just hostility to organized faith. Meanwhile, the leaders of the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints have taken a charitable attitude towards the musical. In a statement, the church leaders said, “the (musical) may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.” The Mormons have even purchased advertisements in theatre programs for their church. “You’ve seen the play,” the advertisement says, “now read the book.”

Obviously the Mormons aren’t threatened and perhaps neither should we Catholics feel that way. It would be ironic though, if a musical designed primarily to mock Christianity and undermine faith actually led more people to think about the good things religion can do, and who knows, turns that thought into action.

(Mastromatteo, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Brebeuf College School in Toronto). 

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