REVIEW: The Book of Mormon at Forrest Theatre

Or, why Kim Davis, Ben Carson, and every religious fanatic should be forced to see it

Monica Patton, David Larsen, and Cody Strand.

Monica Patton, David Larsen, and Cody Strand.

It’s hard to believe the Broadway production of The Book of Mormon will turn five next year, and that the show is just as inappropriate, just as bawdy, just as funny as ever. I mean, what show has a supporting character named General Butt F*cking Naked and has a climatic Act Two number called “Joseph Smith American Moses,” a hilarious spoof on the Uncle Tom’s Cabin ballet from The King and I, where the lyrics go like this: “F*ck your woman, f*ck your man, it is all part of God’s plan. Mormons help God as they can, here in Salt Lake City land!”

As I watched the national touring company, which has planted itself here in Philly at the Forrest Theatre through the holidays, I couldn’t help but think that now, more than ever, in a world of Kim Davis, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson, we need this type of show and humor. It proves that the belief systems of organized religions are just as absurd as the premises put forth in the show: you know, that God will send a magical frog to cure villagers of their AIDS. The catch? They have to have sex with it (or, as one of the characters puts it, it’s a “magical f*ck frog”).

The cast in the Philly stop is strong, especially the three leads who bring a tremendous amount of energy to the show. David Larsen is particularly effective as Elder Price, the type-A polished missionary who is stuck with his polar opposite Elder Cunningham on a trip to Africa. Cody Strand, who played Cunningham, looks and comes off like a cross between Chris Farley and Lea Delaria, yet it works. The naïve and wide-eyed Nabulungi, performed with a huge heart and voice by Candace Quarrels, is nothing short of wonderful. Other standouts include Daxton Bloomgquist, who plays the super queer in-the-closet Elder McKinley, and James Vincent Meredith, Nabulungi’s father.

The premise of the show is rather simple: Mormon missionaries are sent to a remote African village where they are charged with converting the people to not only God, but to Mormonism. The problem? The folks have all but given up on any sort of religious calling, given the absurd amount of the population who have AIDS and are in poverty, not to mention that all the young women are being genitally mutilated by General Butt F*cking Naked. It’s no wonder that the people greet the missionaries with their catch phrase: Hasa diga eebowai, which translates to “F*ck you, God.”

But they slowly change their mind when they come to realize that the teachings in Elder Cunningham’s rendition of the Book of Mormon (which includes characters from Star Wars) are meant to be taken as metaphors, despite the fact that poor Nabulungi actually thinks Salt Lake City (or, as she calls it, Sal Tlay Ka Siti) is a magical fairytale land where everything is perfect.

Underneath the laughs and the insanely absurd jokes (including a giant Mormon hell dream scene with twirling Starbucks coffee cups and Hitler getting oral sex from Elder McKinley), the show has a lot of heart, and makes the pretty profound argument that we shouldn’t take the doctrines of religious teachings too seriously. Even the staunch Elder Price, when he finds out that his supervisor is shutting down the African mission, proclaims at the end of the show, “You know what? F*ck him.” Yeah, it’s fiction, but the eerie parallels to the religious right currently invading the American election cycle make Mormon even more of an enjoyable romp.

“The Book of Mormon” plays Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre through December 27. For tickets and more information, click here.

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