Steven Fales was born in Provo, Utah and as a sixth-generation member of the Church of Latter-day Saints, he did exactly what was expected of him by faith and family. He went to church, embarked on the traditional two-year missionary trip expected of young Mormon men (in his case, to Portugal), attended Brigham Young University, married a Mormon woman and started a family.
But that was during his early years. After the revelation that this devoted Mormon with a wife, two kids and a Donny Osmond smile was a gay man, conversion therapy followed, as did judgment, condemnation, excommunication, divorce, relocation, prostitution, drugs, rehabilitation, a custody battle … and finally, a script.
“Confessions of a Mormon Boy” is Fales’s one-man show about his experiences as a fallen Mormon and from July 17 to 22, it will have five performances at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
“Confessions,” will be supplemented by readings of two more of Fales’s plays on July 22 and 23 at the Old Whalers’ Church in Sag Harbor — “Mission Statement,” a prequel detailing his time as a Mormon missionary in Portugal, and “Prodigal Dad,” a sequel that delves into his divorce and subsequent custody battle with his ex-wife — actor, writer and producer Emily Pearson, daughter of legendary Mormon poet and playwright Carol Lynn Pearson.
Together, the three plays make up Fales’s “Mormon Boy Trilogy” and the goal is take all of them to New York City simultaneously for an open ended Off Broadway run early next year. Helping to make that goal a reality is Scott Schwartz, Bay Street’s artistic director, who is directing “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” and working closely with Fales to revise and update the material.
That’s because since “Confessions” appeared Off Broadway at the SoHo Playhouse in 2006, a lot has changed, both for Fales and the country with emotional distance and evolving cultural values providing an opportunity to revisit the original script and build on the story.
“What Steven and I worked on was going deeper into this personal journey around some of these events and very challenging, complicated and hilarious moments in his life to make them even more personal,” explained Schwartz during a recent conference call that included Fales. “It’s an exciting journey — from his relationship to his father, which is very complicated and runs through all three plays, to his time in the sex industry, to his experience with drugs and alcohol. But also in terms of his roots, you still feel though he’s not technically Mormon, there’s a deep connection that’s part of his life and belief system.”
When Fales looks back on the words he wrote more than a decade ago in “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” he is glad that he was able to “freeze dry” the core of what he was going through back then. But time brings new perspective and these days he is able to look at “Confessions” with a longer lens.
“Now, with a lot of therapy and distance, I can delve into the craft of storytelling,” said Fales from his home in Salt Lake City. “Something about me will always be Mormon. It’s almost like an ethnicity, a culture. You embrace the good things but hold the church accountable for spiritual abuse and religious bigotry.”
“I was excommunicated and left for dead by my people. It’s like being burned at the stake metaphorically, and it’s barbaric,” he added. “Then there was a trial to lose my kids by the court of the church.”
“Scott has helped me relax into what is a complicated life and unlock my heart. I’m sharing not just details of things on an emotionally intimate level, but things I might have been missing before.”
Fales admits that the success of “The Book of Mormon,” the Broadway musical, helped leverage “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” which takes the concept to a new level of truth because it is absolutely and completely his real life story.
“‘The Book of Mormon’ allowed me to come back with real stories of Mormon life,” he explained. “There’s a romance to the mountain West, we’re ready for these stories again. I’m excited to offer them.”
This is also a moment of great political divide and it may be there are lessons to be learned in Fales’s plays that have the potential to bring people with opposing views onto common ground.
“In this puritan phase in the country right now, conservative issues and people are getting a lot of attention,” said Fales. “My play is a microcosm of the family. I hope my story translates universally.”
It would seem that “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” already has universal appeal, given that it has had successful runs around the country and around the world. Now, Schwartz and Fales are looking to expand on that success with the “Mormon Boy Trilogy.”
“We’ve worked very hard to further explore ‘Confessions’ as a jumping off point to these other two plays and create this event as a gigantic three play story,” said Schwartz. “There’s been quite a bit of rewriting and new elements, including a western fantasia quality to the work we’ve added.”
When asked about his relationship with his family members and how they feel about him so publicly sharing such a difficult and personally damaging part of his life on stage, Fales notes that his father came to the opening night of “Confessions” a decade or so ago. Father and son are now reading Homer’s “The Odyssey” together.
“We’re trying to bond. I wish I could say everything is great,” he said. “My kids are now in college and busy and going through things, but they’re doing well and excelling at school. My son saw ‘Confessions’ in Orlando and said, ‘Dad, they’re really humanizing you.’ For my children down the line, it gave them some cues that might help them.”
While Fales’s children were baptized in the Mormon Church, they’re not practicing. Their mother also left the church, so the decision on whether or not to pursue it is entirely their own.
“My son did not go on a mission. But it’s in the water here,” conceded Fales. “Who knows if they’ll fall in love with it.”
Though New York played an important — and perhaps even vital — role in helping Fales find liberation and acceptance during his long journey out of the Mormon Church, he still calls Utah home. It’s where he can be close to his children and continue working on rebuilding relationships with other family members.
“I have a writing studio in downtown Salt Lake,” said Mr. Fales. “Sometimes, I’m in New York, but I’m pretty much based here. It’s still complicated. I have a love/hate relationship with Utah. My kids are in college, so I’m here if they need me.”
“We can all become victims of our story. But choose your highest self and give something back to the people who cut you off.”
“Confessions of a Mormon Boy” runs Tuesday, July 17, at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 19, at 5 p.m., Friday, July 20, at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 21, at 5 p.m. and Sunday, July 22, at 2 p.m. Note that the play runs concurrently with Bay Street’s production of “Frost/Nixon.” The staged reading of the prequel, “Mission Statement,” is Sunday, July 22, at 7 p.m. and the sequel, “Prodigal Dad,” follows on Monday, July 23, at 7 p.m. Both readings are at the Old Whalers’ Church. For tickets or information, call the Bay Street Theater at (631) 725-9500.