Ten Questions. Ten Answers. And One Big Decision: Rock, Paper, Or Scissors?
Ben, a straight Mormon guy caught in the middle between his church and his many close gay friends, attempts to understand the intersection of religious faith and sexual identity by interviewing gay and lesbian Mormons around the country. Ben Abbott plays both interviewer and subjects in this funny, challenging, and poignant one-man show based on actual interviews. Questions of the Heart is almost certainly the first fringe play ever to have been performed successfully at both a Mormon church and a gay bar.
- Thu 2/20 @ 10:15pm
- Sat 2/22 @ 5:15pm
- Wed 2/26 @ 7:05pm
- Sun 3/2 @ 5:15pm
- Thu 3/6 @ 8:40pm
- Sat 3/8 @ 10pm
Answers by Ben Abbott
(playwright and actor)
1. Your tag line is out there on postcards and press releases so we know the PR version of what this play is about. But when you talk to your family and friends, how do you explain the show to them?
BA: I interviewed a wide range of gay and lesbian Mormons who’ve had vastly different experiences from each other let alone me. Some are closeted, some are out, some have left the church far behind, some are still faithful, and most are a complicated combination of those things and more. I originally wanted to find out what the Queer Mormon experience was, but I learned that it’s all so much more complicated than any single experience. On the surface, the show is about Mormons, but really it’s about what happens when deeply rooted identity and beliefs conflict.
2. Here’s a scenario: After the show some audience members go have a drink. What’s the part of the show you hope they’re discussing?
BA: I hope they’re talking about the characters and their stories. Each one defies expectations and challenges assumptions, and each one deserves to be remembered.
3. What drives your show – character, theme or plot?
BA: The engine of the show is my character’s need to understand and reconcile what’s become the great contradiction of his life. He starts pretty naively, but as he goes on, his image and understanding of his own faith and culture is challenged and complicated. He’s got to reconcile this new, uncomfortable information with a lifetime of belief and practice and figure out who and what he is in this new reality. I say “he” which is weird because I’m playing myself. You might guess that the process of making this play has been an interesting one.
4. In rehearsals, read-thrus, or prior incarnations, what’s the one thing someone said about the show so far that made you (or the team) the most proud?
BA: “You put a face on a group of people that I never considered, and you did more to humanize and make me feel empathy for them than I thought was possible.” I love that quote because it’s actually two quotes: One person said it referring to Mormons, and another said it referring to gays and lesbians.
Also (if I may indulge): “I’m Catholic/Jewish/Evangelical Christian (etc.). I thought this was going to be about Mormons, but it’s about ME.”
5. Let’s fantasize for a moment. Let’s take the “off-off” off. Imagine this show is on Broadway. Would that change the production itself?
BA: You mean if I didn’t have to fit the entire production into a suitcase?! I would be much more messy. I have hours of interview tapes and hundreds of pages of interview notes and transcripts. They all conflict with and challenge each other. I would love to physicalize that with the set and props, and have enough space to embody the internal whirlwind more.
6. Taking that one step further – after paying everyone what they’re worth of course, what is the most lavish, luxurious, pointless thing you would spend money on if there was no constraints?
BA: A giant, golden, Angel Moroni (that statue on the top of Mormon temples) for absolutely no reason. And I would never refer to it or even acknowledge that it was there.
7. Is there a scene, a moment, a gesture … anything at all in the show that you anticipate may get a completely different reaction depending on the audience that night?
BA: One man’s story near the end of the play is so seemingly contradictory but powerful that I can never anticipate how people will respond to him. Whatever side you’re on, his story challenges the very idea of sides or a right/wrong binary. Depending on the audience it plays as funny, tragic, pathetic, inspiring, you name it. It’s always a surprise and I love hearing people in the same audience have opposite reactions to the same moment.
8. What’s your favorite line from the show?
BA: “We have to make room at the table for Paul.”
Or, “If you’re going to be born gay, don’t be born Mormon.”
Or, “It’s ‘us.’ It’s ‘us!’ There is no ‘them’ and ‘us.’”
(I’m clearly not good at this “pick one” business.)
9. Is the world of this play sustainable outside a theatre? In other words … do you think people live the way the characters do? Would you want a world where they do?
BA: Yes. These are real people, and as weird and strange and unbelievable the world of the play is, it’s their lives.
10. You scan the audience and you see a face that stops you dead in your tracks – who is it? And why are you shocked?
BA: Someone from the presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka the Mormon church). 1. What are they doing at a fringe festival? 2. Is it good news or bad news that they know about this show?
Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament of DEAAAAATH
In the THM virtual Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament of DEAAAAATH which FRIGID Show do you take on? And what do you throw?
CHALLENGES: Yelling at Bananas in Whole Foods.
THROWS: I throw…SCISSORS! (Wow, that sounds so much more violent than it is.)
~ East in Red who threw SCISSORS — that’s a DRAW …
~ THE CANUCK CABARET who threw ROCK — that’s a LOSS.
~ Yelling at Bananas in Whole Foods who threw SCISSORS — that’s one DRAW for the round where BANANAS challenged YOU, and one DRAW for when YOU challenged BANANAS.
~ Petunia and Chicken who threw PAPER — that’s a WIN!
So, no QUESTION about it! With three DRAWS, a WIN and a LOSS you pretty much end up right where you started. HOWEVER you certainly put your whole HEART into it, and that’s the most we can ask for in this tournament!
Thanks Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity for participating in The Happiest Medium’s FRIGID New York Festival 2014 Q&A. And for playing our game! You’re officially SCISSORS in any and all challenges. You may win, you may lose – who knows! This is how it works in the crazy world of the Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament of DEAAAAATH!
For the rest of you don’t forget to check out Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity!
Horse Trade Theater Group will present the 8th Annual FRIGID New York Festival at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A) February 19-March 9. Tickets are available for purchase in advance at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info or by calling 212-868-4444.