By Thomas Johnson, September 15 2018 —
In 2011, The Book of Mormon, a harrowing tale of two earnest, naïve Mormon missionaries trying to share the gospel of Joseph Smith in a ravaged modern-day Uganda, hit Broadway. The narrative is split roughly in two: one half follows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, the aforementioned fine young men, as they learn to navigate a foreign African landscape that’s more occupied with bloodthirsty warlords and the AIDS epidemic than bliss in the afterlife. The other half offers a semi-fictionalized retelling of the foundational years of the Church of The Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The show came through Calgary’s Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium this past week, and it was something.
The Book Of Mormon has travelled around the world many times over. It was written by the team behind South Park. It won a Grammy. Approximately half of the production’s script is relegated to bathroom humour. It is the most-awarded, critically lauded, commercially successful play of all time.
The beauty of The Book of Mormon is that, despite the obvious, surface-level lampooning of The LDS, the absurdity of the play never feels like a pointed critique of their beliefs. In fact, the strokes with which writers Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone paint their truly fucked-up little world are so broad that the target of their satire is blind belief at large. The extent of the childish humour is taken to an extreme you’d never have thought possible of a stage-production. As such, the barbs never come off as truly insulting.
The Book Of Mormon is an exercise in excess, both in regards to the production value — which was outstanding — and the great lengths to which Parker, Lopez and Stone pushed the comfort zones of their audience. For the breadth of demographics present, it was a testament to the play’s ridiculousness that the audience almost universally lost themselves in the most uncouth punchlines. By my count, there was only one audience member visibly upset. I would later see her applauding after a musical number involving a baptism as thinly-veiled innuendo for something else entirely.
At times it was unclear what exactly the play was ridiculing, but I attribute that more to the tears streaming from my eyes than the play itself, which, frankly, was unlike anything I have ever seen. The Book of Mormon is such an uncompromising tour-de-force that you don’t realize you’ve experienced the singular vision of three maniacs until, after the standing ovations and excited lobby-chittering, when you crawl into bed and start giggling at a poop joke — like any worthwhile theatre should have you doing.