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Review: 'Facing East' at International City Theatre

June 16, 2009 |  4:00 pm


Utah has the country’s highest suicide rate for males between the ages of 14 and 25. That grim statistic is given a name and a troubled family in Carol Lynn Pearson’s impassioned “Facing East,” now at the International City Theatre in Long Beach. This 80-minute agit-prop takes place at the fresh grave of Andy McCormick, the 24-year-old gay son of upstanding Mormons Ruth (Terry Davis) and Alex McCormick (Christian Lebano). A polite memorial service has just concluded — during which no one mentioned that the deceased took his own life with a gun.

Alex, devastated by the ceremony’s hypocrisy, decides to hold a second funeral right there in the cemetery. (Stephen Gifford’s stark unit set features an open grave, several tombstones and four piles of salt.) This time, he tells his resistant wife, we’ll tell the truth. Of course, that honesty will implicate everyone in the family. And there’ll be a surprise guest: Andy’s partner, Marcus (Daniel Kash).

Pearson, a fourth-generation Mormon, deftly sketches a world in which ritual and propriety are all. Alex hosts a popular radio segment, “One-Minute Dad,” and has been offered a promotion. This means getting even cozier with the same Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officials who ex-communicated his son. Meanwhile, Ruth has bought into the notion that preservation of family is everything, even if it means thwarting individual happiness. The play doesn’t condemn Mormonism, but openly questions whether the religion’s strict dogma really stays true to its message of love and community. That critique isn’t news, but it is deeply felt.

Director Shashin Desai mines the play’s intrinsic drama — who is to blame for Andy’s death — but “East” stacks the deck in ways that detract from its power as a family study. Andy, it seems, was a saint: bright, handsome, a Juilliard musician and a loving guy.  (Gay male playwrights have been tougher on themselves with richer results; see “Angels in America” or “The Normal Heart.”)

Lebano drives the action with credible anguish, even when the play lapses into soap. But it’s Davis who has the heavy lifting, defending Mormonism’s anti-gay stance in the context of her character’s upbringing. “Satan won this round,” she says, “But things are better this way.” Is there a grieving mother anywhere on Earth who would actually believe that?

Pearson doesn’t mention Proposition 8, but the same-sex marriage amendment’s shadow looms over the evening and gives what might otherwise be an overly schematic piece a stinging relevance.

Behind the question of civil rights, however, lurks something more mysterious. Each of the characters in the play — not just Andy — struggles with his or her sexuality. “Why did God make this sex thing so important?” Ruth wonders, distraught. “Because that is what destroyed my son.” Scientists, poets, politicians, priests: no one has quite answered that question in a way that satisfies their constituents.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

Facing East,” International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 5. $32 to $42. (562) 436-4610   Running time: 80 minutes.

Caption: Christian Lebano, Terry Davis and Daniel Kash in "Facing East." Credit: Shashin Desai 

Comments () | Archives (7)

I have not seen this play, but have heard it is pretty good. It is definitely a topic that needs to be taken seriously.

However, as a researcher, I get pretty frustrated with the claims about Utah having the highest suicide rate.

First, the math is somewhat fuzzy on how they come up with this number

see: http://en.fairmormon.org/Suicide_rate_among_Mormons

Secondly, Utah is commonly suggested to have a higher degree of depression. Yet it is admitted that the state is also better at identifying depression and takes a more proactive approach to the problem...wouldn't that be indicative of the higher rate?

Thirdly, even if Utah has a high rate, to what degree is the LDS faith responsible? Data suggest that suicide rates among active LDS males is 4 times lower than suicide rates among inactive LDS males.

Again, every suicide is a tragedy, and the degree to which suicide DOES occur as a result of feeling ostracized by any religion should be addressed.

But my initial thought was that the author (and of the play) may be pushing really hard on the "higher suicide rate - LDS Church" connection without really examining the data.

It's nice to see the Mormon apologists come out and defend every notion about LDS church that could cast doubt on it's authenticity. Good thing we have a link to that vast library of scholarship and objectivity fairmormon.org!

I suspect "Cicero" is much like the character Ruth McCormick in the play. Defending her belief at all cost.

Maybe the Mormon Church, professional sports and Ivy league schools should just lower their standards, then everyone would feel better about themselves.

Ha! Thanks Jake D. Of COURSE I'm going to defend the Mormon Church! I love the gospel that is contained therein. And the fact that you have an organization that allows imperfect people to serve and care for one another is a great thing.

And there are plenty of imperfect things that have occurred within the LDS church. I never said the church was perfect and never will because it's DEFINITELY NOT!

The funny thing is that much of my argument had to do with defending Utah from these claims about suicide rates. Certainly I end with the LDS defense, but maybe you could refute my comments about how people interpret and serve up data. You seem to think the strength of my argument stands or falls on whether or not I was defending Mormonism. That's a pretty intellectually lazy position to take.

Oh and is there are source of data you would suggest that is fair and objective on the LDS church? I would really like to see it.

LDS is a non-scripturally based, manufactured cult whose principal importance to its members has nothing to do with Jesus Christ but all to do with business and political networking. They want nothing less than to control our society and the behaviors permitted within it. Aspirin or Coca Cola, anyone? (But you can buy those things, plus a martini at any Marriott).

"Facing East" sounds like a very interesting story about the intersection of faith and life for members of the LDS Church. Another project that is looking at similar themes in a very different way is "The Book of Jer3miah".


A review in the New York Times had interesting perspective on the show:


Cicero. Hasn't it occurred to you WHY these LDS males who commit suicide aren't likely to be "active" LDS members at the time of their suicide? I was born into and raised in an active LDS family. I served in all the highest leadership callings growing up. I was an Eagle Scout. I was a straight-A student. I went out of my way to go to BYU, hoping that it would be an oasis from temptation, because all the while growing up, I knew I had a deep, dark secret: I was gay. I served a full 2-year mission and was the Assistant to the President of my mission. I saw more conversions than any other missionaries. I came home and was a star instructor in the Missionary Training Center for 2 more years, all in faith, and in an effort to prove my faithfulness worthy to the Lord, to receive some kind of miracle change. I did all of this--only to realize that the promises in my Patriarchal Blessing--written in print on official Church letter-head and sealed upon me 'through my faith'--promises that I would somehow return from my mission and have 'an enjoyable courtship' with one of God's daughters--and be able to get married to her--were utterly, plainly, false. I dated and dated, and followed the counsel of men like my Mission President who told me that it was 'just a phase' and that I should just keep dating (conveniently) some other man's daughters, and that my life-long attraction to only guys would eventually just 'go away'. Well, guess what: It didn't. And an 'enjoyable courtship' is pretty much the exact opposite of what I experienced, dating girl after girl for years until I was 27. Nothing could have felt more wrong, or more dishonest to me than to date those girls and waste their time and mine, causing them hurt feelings as they detected that I couldn't so much as sincerely muster up a kiss. I even had a Singles Ward Bishop at one point confess to me that he himself was gay and that his wife of 30 years didn't know. He cautioned me that he was glad his wife didn't know--that it would only make her insecure and jealous of his relations with men--and that I shouldn't tell my then girlfriend of 8 months, contrary to the counsel I was receiving from one of the Church's best 'experts' on repairative therapy. When I asked him, regarding how he managed sex all those years with his unknowing wife, he actually responded "Well--when the lights are out, it doesn't really matter." This process I went through, and the many ridiculous hardships I endured in the Church in a never-ending effort to earn some miracle 'cure' from God of my same-sex orientation, drove me right up to the brink of my sanity, as I'm sure you can imagine. I often thought of suicide. But it was BYU and the so-called Honor Code department (as if honor is something that can be enforced) which pushed me right over that brink--when someone I had confided in offered up my name to them in order to receive a lighter punishment. That's right they were hunting down known gays. I was read lists of names and asked to identify anyone on those lists who I knew to be gay, and I was told that it would show sincere repentance, and that I would be allowed back into school if I did so. I was given 3 days to move out of my housing and was literally put out on the street. It was at this point that I nearly killed myself. But something came over me. I believe it's called common sense. I realized suddenly that no loving God would prefer that I suffer any longer than I already had, or much less that I throw back my life at him, just to avoid being gay. I changed schools as a senior in double majors at BYU because I couldn't stand another day there surrounded by ignorant, hateful people. I transfered to a University of California school, losing 3 years worth of credits, costing me tens of thousands of dollars and years more of my life. When I was searching for a roommate at my new University, I happened to meet a devastated guy who had just lost 'the love of his life'--his LDS boyfriend-- to suicide. The LDS young man he was in love with had just been kicked out of BYU himself, and had returned home to California and entered this new University. But when he told his family he was gay, they rejected him, and it was too much for him to bear. He committed suicide. I spent hours consoling this poor guy, telling him that the Church has such a stranglehold on the mind of it's young gay members that there wasn't anything he could have done to stop him from committing suicide--that only by the grace of God had I avoided the same fate. So, Cicero, I don't know where you get your statistical information, but let me tell you, you have no idea the kind of pain and trauma I endured since childhood because of the ignorance in the Church on this issue, ignorance in my LDS parents, their local leaders, and the irresponsible leaders at the head of the Church on this issue. I was raised in my LDS congregation to read and be familiar with the ironically titled "Miracle of Forgiveness" by President Spencer W. Kimball, who stated that homosexuality was 'unthinkable' and 'repugnant'. He stated it was against God's plan to provide bodies for his spirit children--and therefore it would be better for a gay person NOT TO HAVE BEEN BORN than to live a gay life. I therefore spent every day of my young life contemplating that perhaps suicide was the only way I could demonstrate to Heavenly Father that I cared more about living his will than living out my natural instinct toward same-sex attraction. It's you who should educate yourself, sir. Shame on you telling people like me that I need to educate myself about the cause of suicide in LDS gay males. You, sir, don't have a clue to be speaking on the matter. I hope and pray for your sake and for your childrens' sakes that you don't have a gay child one day. But it seems to be the way of the Universe for people like you to end up parenting a gay child: like my poor Mom and Dad, you are totally ill-equipped by the LDS Church to deal with the issue. You haven't the first clue. And the truly sad and ironic thing is that all you need to understand the issue is simple, scientific fact based on decades of extensive research on the matter by the overwhelming numbers of specialists in the fields of Psychology and Mental Health, or just the plain clarion call of Jesus Christ that "by THIS shall men know ye are my disciples; if ye have LOVE ONE TO ANOTHER."


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