Everyone thinks he or she has a story to tell. Some people's lives make for genuinely compelling autobiographical material, while others just like hearing the sound of their own voices. What marks the difference between mere confessional theater and high art? Confessions of a Mormon Boy, conceived by, written, and starring Steven Fales, and a holdover from the 2004 New York Fringe Festival, doesn't answer that question. Instead, Fales, an actor with a history of stand-up experience, delivers at the SoHo Playhouse a well-rehearsed story of his life. (He also puts his very well-defined body on display almost as much as he does his psyche.) It's a journey that takes him from his Mormon roots in Utah to his days (and mostly nights) as a gay escort in New York. But from start to finish, the message is clear: "Me! Me! Me!"
Fales's story, which includes his ostracism from the Mormon community, is not without moments that deserve sympathy. He grew up living life according to the edicts of his family and their religion—he was an Eagle Scout and a missionary, and he attended Brigham Young University. But all along he sensed that his sexuality was pulling him down a divergent path.
He opted to avoid it at first. Fales married a woman, Emily, whose father not only was gay and an early AIDS victim but whose mother, Carol Lynn Johnson, wrote a book chronicling her life with that husband. During Fales's marriage, which produced two children, he worked at his performing arts career and felt it increasingly hard not to stray into the arms of other men. Eventually, the Fales divorced and the Mormon Church excommunicated him (Fales accurately points out the hypocrisy in the church's banishing him for something that the Mormon religion does not even recognize), and he made a life for himself as a struggling actor in New York City.
Fales didn't struggle for long, though he found success not as an actor but as a gigolo. During Boy's last third, he chronicles the many nights he spent with rich Johns who subsidized a life increasingly dependent on chemical substances. This is familiar territory for anyone who has read memoirs by such people as Drew Barrymore, Augusten Burroughs, or James Frey (the latter's facts may be false, but the song remains the same). Fales intermittently mentions the shame he caused and felt as a result of his decadent lifestyle, but prefers to dwell on his glamorous experiences. And while I firmly believe he cares for his two children, his affection for them in Boy feels more like an afterthought; they seem far too remote when mentioned in this show.
For someone who is responsible for most of what his life has brought, Fales repeatedly comes off as a victim. Yet everything about this Boy, as directed by Jack Hofsiss, has far too nice a sheen to suggest real suffering. Instead of being a harrowing tale of a life's ups and downs, the show is merely a nicely packaged piece of self-promotion.
But if Boy is little more than a commercial for himself, Fales proves to be his own best advertising tool. His material may be run-of-the-mill (and apparently there is more—he is currently preparing a new stand-up "dramedy" act), but Fales delivers it with impeccable timing and perfect diction. Furthermore, his recollections of his youth, with all its confusion, mistreatment, and mistakes, are full of vivid detail. Several devices, including the use of a recording of Fales singing as a child, show what a long journey he has been on.
By the show's end, he has undergone quite a transformation—physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually—but Boy is not the story of a metamorphosis. Fales is not interested in spreading his wings and flying away. He wants to stay put right where he is, at center stage.