Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Karmic Encounter and The Book of Mormon

The Toronto run for The Book of Mormon at the Princess of Wales theatre sold out shortly after tickets went on sale. You can still buy tickets if you are willing to pay exorbitant prices to resellers (read scalpers).

The Lottery
The rest of us who aren't willing/able to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for tickets would be out of luck were it not for the Ticket Lottery. At 5:30 every afternoon, eager theatre-goers have half an hour to register for the 6:00 daily draw to win the right to buy a pair of tickets at the cost of $25 each. The conditions are: 1. One entry per person per day; 2. Before putting the ballot in the box, you have to register your name and ID at the desk. 3. The entrant and the other person who will attend the performance must be present at the draw. 4. The tickets must be paid in cash only. Lori suggested that we arrive at the theatre at 5:30 and enter the draw. She was particularly enthusiastic because I tend to win things. It is true. For reasons unknown, the universe tends to give me presents. I win random contests more often than would be expected, statistically speaking.

Chronically Late
I arrived at the theatre at 5:40 and registered for the draw. Lori was supposed to meet me there. Those of us who know and love Lori, are aware that she chronically tends to run a bit late for everything. This was aggravated by the fact that she was coming from her office in Etobicoke located in the far reaches of northwest Toronto, just before you hit Edmonton. As the 6:00 deadline loomed, I started looking around for someone else who appeared to be waiting for their equally tardy theatre partner to arrive.

A Brief Marriage of Convenience
John approached me. He wanted to get tickets to take his girlfriend, whose name coincidentally is Leslie, for her birthday. She wasn't with him, seeing as this was meant to be a surprise. We agreed that if his name were drawn, I would go to the box office with him as the partner and he would keep the two tickets. If my name were drawn, he would go with me and I would keep the two tickets. I forewarned John that I only had $47 in my wallet and I'd need to borrow money from him if I my name came up.

The Universe Smiles
I did win the drawing. John, not especially pleased because he realized that by accompanying me he would then forfeit his own chance to win, went into the box office to claim the tickets with me, and loaned me the necessary $3. Because these tickets are supposed to be non-transferable, they put amusement park-style wristbands on each of us which we would have to show, along with the tickets upon entry to the performance.

Lori on the Scene
Lori arrived just as we went outside again. I was all excited and jumpy and Lori couldn't quite figure out what was going on and why some slightly miffed guy wanted $3 from her. We went into Tim Horton's where we got coffee and borrowed a pair of scissors at the cash and carefully cut off John's wristband underneath where the closing tab overlapped. Lori paid John the $3 I owed, and we explained what had just transpired. John, who goes by the name John Karma, offered to buy the tickets from us but we weren't interested in selling. He was disappointed but very nice about. It turns out that he wanted the tickets not to take a current girlfriend, but a former one. A brief discussion about karma, kindness and caring ensued. It is good to continue to have a caring relationship with someone who is no longer your partner, but there is a point when you have to take steps to care for the health of your own heart when feelings are not reciprocated.

The Book of Mormon

The play has been a smash hit. So does it live up to the hype?

The Book of Mormon, by Matt Stone and Trey Parker the creators of South Park, in conjunction with Robert Lopez, is fabulously funny once you get over the initial "holy crap" shock at the blatant irreverence.

In brief synopsis, the plot tells the story of Elder Price, a young Mormon with a very high opinion of himself, who is paired up with the much less couth Elder Cunningham to be dispatched to spread the word of the Book of Mormon in Uganda, which is nothing like the place Price hoped to be posted: Orlando.

Price becomes discouraged as Cunningham struggles for a way to make the teachings of the Book of Mormon relevant to the Ugandan villagers, who are more worried about AIDS and the local warlord who wants to impose female circumcision than about the promises of some foreign religion. In order to get the story of the Book of Mormon across and sex it up a bit, Cunningham turns to the imagery familiar to all lone bookish nerds: Star Wars, Star Trek, the Lord of the Rings, and a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean thrown in for good measure. Exuberantly he incorporates the images of the sci-fi and fantasy world into his retelling of the Book of Mormon, and creates a story to which the people can relate, notwithstanding that it bears precious little resemblance to the original scripture.

Alien people, in a foreign land, preaching a book that is equally far-out, this show had all the potential to slip into snide mocking and derision. But what could have been a brutal slam on an eccentric religion gets a humanizing treatment. The self-centered Price gets his comeuppance. Cunningham finds strength and creativity when he realizes that, beyond evangelizing, his job is to help the people deal with their problems. The Ugandan characters themselves take the missionaries' efforts in stride by illustrating the absurdity of the silly religious stories and nonetheless coming to the conclusion that religion can provide a different way of thinking about and addressing one's problems, so as long as it is taken metaphorically and not literally.

If this sounds sappy, it isn't. The entire show is an unflinching romp with bouncy music and sharp, sassy, snappy lyrics, with the songs in the second act noticeably stronger than those in the first act.

Interestingly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has three full-page ads in the theatre program. I guess its feels that after seeing the show people might be inspired to want to know more about the church and possibly become followers. I had a look at the link and found that:

While the Bible details events in the eastern hemisphere, Book of Mormon events largely take place in the Americas.

The Book of Mormon recounts that Jesus visited the Americas after He was resurrected. He taught people and established a church there. In the Bible it says, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established (see 2 Corinthians 13:1).” Just as the Bible and the Book of Mormon are two witnesses of Christ, these two civilizations together witness that Jesus is the Christ and Savior of all mankind.

When Jesus was in America? Wow, that is pretty breathtaking stuff. All theatre is an exercise in suspended disbelief. Religion pretty much makes a similar demand, with the exception that religion expects you to keep believing after you have left the theatre. Just remember that it is a metaphor.

Location, Location, Location
While I was grateful to be able to see the show at all, our tickets, up in the nosebleed section, were not worth more than the $25 that they cost. One of the joys of theatre, particularly in a rambunctious show like this, is that the situations are larger than life, and they are played out in a way that is meant to be in your face. The experience is meant to be enveloping. Being seated far above and to the side of the stage shifts the perspective and it is very distancing. You don't experience theatre the same way when viewed from above rather than seen straight on. The staging was simple, bright, bold, and completely engaging. I wish that I could have seen this show in the way that it was meant to be seen.

There was also some sound distortion in the upper reaches of the theatre. The show is strongly language dependent, with a huge amount of clever wordplay. A lot of the lines got lost, and I feel truly disappointed that I couldn't hear everything that was said/sung. Take it as a testament to the show's appeal that I want to get my hands on a copy of the soundtrack to be able to listen to it from end to end because it was a masterpiece of ingenuity.

Lori's criterion: "Good theatre makes you laugh and makes you cry." This one will have you laughing but it doesn't really tug at your heartstrings. It is a devilishly clever romp and that is good enough for me.

The Book of Mormon, see it if you can.