Friday July 22, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The press material for "Mormons, Mothers and Monsters," the newest and among the more misguided projects of Barrington Stage Company's Musical Theatre Lab, suggests a playful, witty musical about the trials and travails, imagined or real, of a Mormon boy in Pittsburgh trying to make his way to adulthood through an unstable home life as the son of a mother who cannot keep a husband.

As it happens, some heavy stuff goes down. The result is a musical that wants to have it all ways and winds up with nothing.

The story is narrated by the "cutely" named Me (Stanley Bahorek), as he looks back at his younger self, the "cutely" named Mormon -- not so coincidentally bearing the same name in the play as the show's author and lyricist, Sam Salmond -- played at various stages of development by Taylor Trensch.

Salmond has drawn on his own relationship with his estranged mother to tell a coming-of-age story that, in the end, celebrates his coming out at the age of 16.

That the somewhat flaky (as played by Jill Abramovitz) mother of Salmond's stage alter ego, Mormon, has had bad luck with men is an understatement. One husband is physically abusive to young Sam. Another hides porno magazines in his copy of The Book of Mormon and is a closet homosexual. Her luck appears to change with her third husband but this guy, too, turns out not be what he appears. For Mormon, who is raised in a religion bound by clear rules, the dilemma is how one builds a good life based on those rules when none of your adult role models is willing to play by them.


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Young Mormon's fears materialize, literally, in the form of a growling werewolflike creature (Adam Monley, who also plays Sam/Mormon's father and stepfathers) but the adults around him are capable of such hairy transformations at any time.

The closeted Mormon's inner turmoil over his sexuality and his unbridled sense of liberation after he willingly loses his virginity to a churchman at the age of 16 takes "Mormons, Mothers and Monsters" nowhere fresh or new. Neither the wearisome material nor the even more wearisome performances give us any reason to care, especially in the face of an outcome that's never truly in doubt.

"Mormons, Mothers and Monsters" has no clear sense of its own identity. Its more playful instincts on the one hand and profoundly darker impulses on the other don't keep each other easy company.

Aronson's music is undistinguished -- forgettable from the very first moment you hear it. And in this show, it is impossible not to hear it. Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt's production is very hard on the ears. It comes at you like an assault on the ears -- hard, loud, insistent and with barely a listenable singing voice in the cast, especially Abramovitz, whose unrelenting shrill, abrasive tone occasionally gives way, if only for a moment, to something softer and more lyrical.

Trensch fares only marginally better in a performance that never finds its way. By the time Trensch completes the arc of Mormon/Sam's been-there-done-that journey, we are long past caring.