Yearning for God, Trying to Love My Neighbor, Making Theatre and Beauty, Building a Life...



Sunday, December 30, 2012

_The Hobbit_ Strikes a Personal Chord-- Again.


 
My wife and I finally got the chance to see the first part of The Hobbit trilogy the other day (with two young kids, our opportunities become more rare, so having Anne's parents in town really helped in this regard). I was wary at first. I had read a number of negative reviews and, being a lover of Tolkien's work and the previous Lord of the Rings films, I was afraid to see the film version not live up to expectations. Lowered expectations always help when going into a film (part of why I read the critics first), and this proved to be the case here. But, even if I had higher expectations, I still believe I would have been just as moved by the film. 

Sure, the film was a little more humorous/campy and less "epic" than Peter Jackson's previous cinematic treatment of Middle Earth (the original film trilogy will always be beloved to me) but I was expecting that. The Hobbit, as a book, is a very different beast than the subsequent Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is a much lighter story written with a younger audience in mind, and, if anything, the film could have used some of the book's restraint instead of trying to constantly re-create the successful formula of Lord of the Rings.

However, despite my initial reservations in the filmmakers' decision to create the single volume book into a trilogy (with help from Tolkien's appendices of LOTR and other "history" he wrote about Middle Earth), I was very pleased with what expanding the story did for the characters and themes of the book. Bilbo, Gollum, Gandalf, Thorin, and other Middle Earthlings gain much and lose little in expanding the tale. Tolkien's magical but simple tale becomes richer, more nuanced, and more meaningful with this expanded treatment. As heretical as that may sound to Tolkien purists, and as much as I love the original book, I thought the film had much more emotion and characterization than its source material.

Watching the film, however, reminded me of my experience in first encountering the book and the significant impact it made on my life:
When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I was becoming interested in the thrillers for younger readers written by R.L. Stine. Not the Goosebumps series which became popular after I was older (just looking at the covers of those more recent installments makes me shudder...not out of fear, but because of the sheer cheesiness), but his earlier books which were thrillers of a much more realistic nature (at least to my adolescent mind). I remember being in a bookstore, with my mother and some of my sisters, looking through those books and I could tell my mother wasn't quite sure about buying her young son books about teenaged characters escaping murderers, so we were at a bit of an impasse.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

_A Roof Overhead's_ Real Life Sam Forrest: The Baptism of Noel Miller

Noel Miller and Ivy Worsham-Gambier in my play A Roof Overhead
Note: All photos used in this post were taken by Natalie Watson Nelson.

Over the course of the past several months, Noel Miller and I have become good friends. We met at a party last Spring hosted by some mutual friends in the theater department (okay, so I was crashing their cast party for Sorry, We're Closed...but I was invited by the playwright Cody Goulder!). Noel stood out to me. I felt like the Spirit was trying to tell me something about her, so I kept her on my radar. 

Our next involvement with each other was when the above mentioned Cody cast her in staged reading of my play Evening Eucalyptus which was being put on for one of classes for one of my classes for the MFA in Dramatic Writing that I'm currently working on. Not only did she have the best Australian accent, which the play required, but she had an emotional resonance which was powerful in the role. I was impressed with her as an actress and as a person. Once again, I felt the Spirit attempt to tell me something about her.
When I found out that my play A Roof Overhead was accepted at part of the next 2012 season of ASU's student theater Binary Theatre Company, Noel was one of the first people who came into my mind to invite to be a part of the production. At first it was as a lighting designer, since she had done an excellent job in that capacity in Cody's play Sorry, We're Closed, but having seeing her skills as an actress in the staged reading of Evening Eucalyptus, I felt prompted the following Fall to have her audition for an acting role instead ...which became a rather providential move.

Noel rocked the audition and landed the lead role of Sam Forrest. In A Roof Overhead, the character of Sam is an atheist who moves into the basement apartment underneath a family of Mormons, the Fieldings. The conflict that ensues because of their clashing cultures and belief systems is the central obstacle in the play, as both sides make major mistakes and move towards understanding, tolerance and love. It turned out that casting Noel as the atheist Sam was a good bit of casting, as Noel was an ardent atheist herself and could very much relate to and convey Sam's character from a very real, natural place. At one point during rehearsals Noel jokingly yelled at me, "Mahonri, stop writing what's in my head!" It turns out Sam and Noel were working from very similar places.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Needful Opposition: Addressing Conflict and Controversy in Mormon History Plays

BYU's 2001 production of Tim Slover's _Hancock County_.
How to present Mormon History has often been a sensitive thing within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Especially with the understandable impulse to protect the faith and culture of an entire people, it can be tempting to soft pedal it, to not get into the nitty gritty of historical details, or to side step explosive issues when presenting history in a dramatic work. Although there are plenty of white washed Mormon history plays out there, there has also been a tradition of strong, engaging  playwrights involved in Mormon Drama who haven’t been to tackle head on the inherent conflicts, human flaws and controversies that are unavoidable when writing plays based on history.

Mormon History, whether dramatized or not, has been a hot button issue within the Church in the past. Even when written by active, faithful Latter-day Saints who are writing from a place of faith, there have been times in recent Mormon record when there was discouragement from people high in the Church about writing honest history that addressed controversy or contradiction in the history of the Church. There have even been instances where historians have faced Church discipline because of their writing. Fortunately, that day seems to have changed and attitudes within Church leadership have become increasingly progressive regarding its history.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blinded by the Fire: Cultural Memory and the Response to my Mormon History Plays





In her book A Director Prepares, Anne Bogart addresses various challenging experiences theatre artists face in creating their art. In the book she confronts Memory, Violence, Eroticism, Terror, Stereotype, Embarrassment, and Resistance. Although she writes from a director’s perspective, I found them particularly helpful from a playwright/screenwriter’s point of view as well.

Having been both a director and a writer for the theater, I have found both creative processes put me in a similar place intellectually and emotionally (especially when I’ve been a director for my own work, it just seems to be a different step of the same process). Although I will write about how all of these qualities addressed by Bogart have affected my work in future posts, I would like to focus on each of them one at a time. So first on deck for this series of essays is…

Memory:

In her book, Bogart states:
Theatre is about memory; it is an act of memory and description. There are plays and people and moments of history to revisit. Our cultural treasure trove is full to bursting. And the journeys will change us, make us better, bigger and more connected. We enjoy a rich, diverse and unique history and to celebrate it is to remember it. To remember it is to use it. To use it is to be true to who we are. A great deal of energy and imagination is demanded. And an interest in remembering and describing where we came from (p.39).
For me this statement from Bogart has resonance on so many levels. In my work, I’ve focused a great deal on historical drama, especially from my Mormon heritage. My intense interest in Mormon history has bled into a number of my works, reaching back as far as my high school juvenilia.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Leaves of Nauvoo: Mormon History Reflections From My Honeymoon


The other day I came across an old mole-skin, black notebook my wife Anne had given me on my birthday when we were dating (including a poem which my friend Nate Drew put music to and which I sang to Anne after I asked her to marry me... a totally different story). Instantly knowing what it was, I reviewed it with fondness.

In its early pages are some overwrought and very loving poems I wrote for Anne. But after several pages nearly all the rest of the notebook is dedicated to things I wrote during mine and Anne's honeymoon in Nauvoo. Those who know my play The Fading Flowing will also see my pre-occupation on David Hyrum Smith at this time, as I was in the midst of revising the play during that time.

After our wedding we went to Salt Lake City for our honeymoon for the weekend and saved up our major trip to Missouri and Illinois Mormon History sites a few months later in the late Spring. As I looked through the poems, quotes, notes, and drawings that I filled the notebook with, a gentle stirring came back to me. It was a beautiful time during mine and Anne's early marriage and I wanted to share some of those pressed flowers of my life. This is a simpler time in my life, but a beautiful one. 

Freedom's Bonds
by Mahonri Stewart

Cramped Cold Creased--
Six men in a prison.
Saints not criminals
A prophet, not a traitor

Like their Ancient Master
Unjust Justice
       afflicts their backs
and cools their lungs.

They're fed afflicted flesh,
but they will not eat.
They wait for their Father's feast
when, lifted from cramped dungeons,
they inherit kingdoms.


--May 3, 2005, Liberty Jail Missouri

The End of Kingdoms
by Mahonri Stewart

A peaceful breeze,
a stretching land,
is all there is to indicate greater things.

These tall trees, empty of inhabitants,
These long, green valleys
These spots for birds,
bugs and butterflies--
shall one day be thronged
with thousands--
tens of thousands--
tens of thousands times
tens of thousands.

This quiet place is a monument of a historic future
When kingdoms end
and Kingdom is born.
--May 4, 2005, Adam-Ondi-Ahman

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Old Problems, New Opportunites: Looking Towards the Future of Mormon Drama

We recently completed the last leg work for the editing of Saints on Stage: An Anthology for Mormon Drama, which I've been spearheading for Zarahemla Books. It includes important plays from some of Mormonism's best playwrights... Robert Elliott, Thomas Rogers, James Arrington, Susan Elizabeth Howe,  Thom Duncan, Eric Samuelsen, Tim Slover, Scott Bronson, Melissa Leilani Larson, Margaret Blair Young... and I couln't be more pleased with how this anthology will give these plays wider exposure. The problem with Drama, though. is that it thrives on local performance, which limits its possible audience. Until a play is published, you usually can't access a play unless its performing in your area. So this anthology is going to be a great boon for many of these Mormon playwrights, and the readers who will discover them, and show how much great work has happened in Mormon drama through the decades.

Matthew Greene's #MormonInChief
But as I've reviewed these works, I've given a lot of thought to the future of Mormon drama. This anthology is a great step in the right direction... but what else can be done to expand Mormon Drama's borders? Mormon Drama is still chiefly a local affair, mainly centered in Utah, and even there it struggles. There are occasional productions outside the border of Utah... Matthew Greene's recent #Mormon Chief which played at the New York International Fringe Festival is a notable one, and my play A Rood Overhead recently played in Arizona... but those sort of wider productions are few and far between.

Does Mormon Drama have a future? Does it have to change to adapt itself to an increasingly digital world? What can it do to become more robust?

For my Dramatic Writing MFA Program I have been taking a "Reading Series" course, where my playwriting professor Guillermo Reyes and I meet together and discuss a series of plays I read tied by theme or content. I chose Mormon Drama as my subject matter. Professor Reyes' reaction has been interesting, as he has expressed genuine interest in the plays as I describe them to him. He's also asked me questions about the viability of Mormon Drama, whether I think it could find a wider audience or not. I try to be hopeful in my responses, but not naively so. I know the struggles and obstacles that lie in our path, and it will take work, creativity, talent, courage and grit to remove those obstacles.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Zion Theatre Company: The Agony, the Ecstasy and the Spirituality in Trying to Push Forward a Religious Theatre Company

Nearly three years ago I created Zion Theatre Company. The venture was born out of necessity, as the theatre group I was collaborating with previous to that suddenly dropped a re-mount of my play Farewell to Eden, backing out late into the game. So we scrambled to create a company around this production and, fortunately, that production went off well.
Despite the rushed creation of ZTC, creating a theater company was actually a goal I had in mind since I was a freshman in high school.  Even before I became aware of companies like the now defunct Nauvoo Theatrical Society, I had wanted to create a theater company that was based on a meaningful foundation of faith and the principles of “Zion.” A place where Mormon drama, religious drama, as well as other faith-friendly work could have a place. So ZTC was a passionate dream of mine for years, and hopefully we’ll be able to fully realize that dream by housing it in its own space someday (we currently rent a few various spaces to house our plays).

In the meantime, however, I’ve been trying to oversee the company in Utah from a distance in Arizona while I’m getting my MFA in Dramatic Writing at ASU. This last year was particularly hairy, as we produced 12 productions in just over one year (after we had established our much more modest original season of four shows, I kept getting approached by other theaters who wanted us to use their space. The subsequent insanity has taught me the value of saying no). October 15th marked our last performance of 2012, with our production of Joseph Robinette’s adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe. After such a crazy (although in many ways fruitful) year, ZTC is taking a much needed reprieve and won’t do another play until May 2013. In the meantime, however, I wanted to chronicle the progress and history of ZTC, production by production. You’ll note that the majority of the productions were my own plays (the company’s original intent was to find a place to house my work), but that we have tried to expand to cover other playwrights as well as time went on.

2010:


- Farewell to Eden by Mahonri Stewart (January 15-25 at the former Provo Theatre Company space, directed by Kathryn Little): It was appropriate that this was our first production, as Farewell to Eden was the play that first introduced my plays to the world when it originally performed at Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University) in 2003, directed by James Arrington. The UVSC production went on to win national awards through the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival and was really the show that launched my current trajectory. I owed a great deal to the characters of this show (and they are still to this day some of my favorite creations, especially Georgiana Highett), and so I was very happy to see them resurrected again at the beginning of this next stage of my personal theatrical history. The show received positive reviews from Sharon Haddock at the Deseret News and from  Nan McCulloch at The Association for Mormon Letters. A DVD of the production was created and is available.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

First Vision: Approaching Joseph Smith's Differing Accounts

There's an issue concerning one of the foundational elements of Mormonism that some find disturbing, but that I've never had issue with. For many Mormons like myself, Joseph Smith's First Vision, where he claims to have seen Jesus Christ and God the Father as a young man, is a powerful part of our history and the event that jump started the "Restoration." However, throughout his life, Joseph Smith gave various details of this event, withholding some until later and leaving off others. In fact, one gets the sense that he was sometimes downright reluctant to relate the story, as it seemed to have more personal meaning to him than Church-wide meaning, at least from his early perspective. 

Yet these differing accounts, because of their varying details, lead some to conclude that Joseph Smith was sort of making it up as he went along, adding and subtracting details as it was convenient and as his theology changed and evolved. I reject this theory outright, for I find nothing odd about how he told the story throughout his history, but rather find it natural and expected.

But first let's put forth the different accounts. This site has the various accounts recorded and I encourage people to look at the accounts in their entirety for themselves and not to take them on my assessment alone. But here's the basic list:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tensions: Representations of Mormons in Secular Drama and Gay Identity in Mormon Drama


“Angels in America” on Broadway, 1993: Ellen McLaughlin in “Part 2: Perestroika.” As a devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and an active member of the theatrical community, the conflict between the LGBTQ community and the Church is an issue that has been impossible to avoid for me. Some people’s reluctance in talking about the issue altogether has not been an option for me. I have a number of friends and loved ones (both with connections to the Church and those without) who identify themselves as somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum.  I mean, let’s be frank, I’m in theatre. In or out of Utah, there are always going to be many of my peers, co-workers, fellow artists and friends who are going to be gay. So it’s something I have had to face, even within my own soul and identity.

Conflict of Cultures
I personally know a number of gay Mormons. Many have left the faith (sometimes hostilely), feeling as if their worldview and practices are simply incompatible with the Mormon culture. Yet some have desperately tried to hang on, groping about for some middle way, whether by trying to make a heterosexual lifestyle work for them, living celibate, or hoping (sometimes beyond hope) that the Church will one day change its stance regarding gay marriage. And then there are those Mormons who feel so attached to the issue, even when they are not personally gay, that it has caused some painful soul searching of their own.

Conversely, I have also experienced some very personal and pointed prejudice directed towards me from members of the theatrical community because I am a card carrying, committed Mormon. I have personally experienced a double standard in this regard, where tolerance was only preached , but not practiced by certain “progressive” individuals when it came to views or lifestyles that opposed their own.

I have no easy answers for any of it, but I have made a study of a number of plays that have dealt with the conflict between Mormonism and homosexual lifestyles and tried to grapple with the conflict between these two cultures in the best way I can. Searching through these plays has been at times uncomfortable, often challenging (in both the positive and negative aspects of that word), and at choice moments even enlightening and inspiring.  However, it’s made me doubly sensitive to how Mormons are represented in such stories, as well as tender hearted towards those who are caught between the monoliths of these cultures, especially those who identify with both.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Divine Feminine, Mormon Style: Carol Lynn Pearson's _Mother Wove the Morning_, Joanna Brooks, and Faithful Mormon Feminism

Feminist. It's a divisive word among Mormons. When I've told people that I consider myself a Mormon feminist it gets a wide range of reactions, from pleasant surprise from my more secular friends and peers who have a firm idea in their minds that Mormons are sexist and patriarchal; to a not-so-veiled antagonism from more conservative Mormons; to a simple and warm curiosity from moderates on all sides. As consequence of having seven powerful and independently minded sisters; a traditionally minded mother, who was nevertheless a strong and powerful influence in my life; a long list of female friends (generally, I have gravitated much more towards women than men); not to mention a strong minded wife and a spunky, little daughter; I've always had a robust appreciation for the women in my life. They've been a diverse spectrum of personalities, beliefs, and approaches, which have been a hugely pervasive and positive influence in my life.

Thus my feminism, although I may have hidden it from myself under different names in the early part of my life, it has really always been there, even as a young child. People have called me out on it in my writing, even in the time of my life before I really considered myself an "official" feminist. Women were often the key characters, and came in greater numbers in my plays (except sometimes in my historical pieces, like Swallow the Sun... I couldn't help it if C.S. Lewis mainly hung out with men!). As my writing continued, in time, my feminist identity and themes became even more pronounced... sometimes to the discomfort of certain family members and friends.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Manifestations of My Faith: Why I am a Mormon

I am a very flawed person with a very limited perspective on life. In no way should I be anybody's lens to see life in a precise manner. However, I have sought for "meaning" all my life, especially in the realm of my religion. I'm a practicing Mormon, but I also refuse to simply take any element of my faith for granted . Nor do I trust any other earthly person, even people who I consider to be inspired leaders, to be my yardstick regarding what I believe or to dictate to me my behavior or to correlate my worldview. My mother would be the first to tell you that I can be one stubborn boy that way. So when I declare myself as a "Mormon" (my preferred term because of its immediate and recognizable distinctiveness, although many or my faith prefer to be called Latter-day Saints, LDS, or Latter-day Saint "Christians"), I make that declaration after a long and hard struggle to investigate the faith and its history, search my own experiences, and seek my own experiences of revelation with the Divine.

Lately I've been startled by just how many people have personally approached me about my faith and asked me why I believe what I do. Non-Mormons, former Mormons, struggling Mormons, anti-Mormons... they have all asked me some very sensitive and sincere (or at times very pointed) questions about why I believe in Mormonism. Many of them do so because they know I talk very openly about it, try to be non-judgemental with those who doubt, and that I have put a in good deal of research to understand the context of whatever aspects of the Mormon story that they're struggling with.

Especially in this so-called "Mormon Moment" with presidential candidates, satirical Broadway musicals, and intense media scrutiny, it's becoming an increasingly sensitive (and sometimes defensive!) time to be a Mormon, which makes these questions posed all the more urgent. Honestly, I find aspects of this questioning a little intimidating, especially coming from loved ones, family and friends who are looking to me with some shard of hope, thinking that I may be able to assuage their doubt and resolve their concerns. To have a person handing me their eternal identity and ask me what I think of it... it's like holding a beautiful glass sculpture and hoping that your sweaty hands don't drop it.

In this regard I really hope not to be a disappointment. But I also know that I dare not deny any of these requests, although I sometimes hesitate in order to gather my thoughts. Here, however, is a very personal essay to answer my loved ones. It's not apologetics, nor hard hitting academic scholarship, nor anything nearly so sophisticated as any of that. It's my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences, my testimony, in a VERY truncated source (despite my long, typical wordiness, this is definitely only the smallest of shards when it comes to how I've experienced my faith).

MANIFESTATION 1: HISTORICAL MORMON

Just like my Christian identity ties directly back to what I think and feel about Jesus of Nazareth and whether what is purported in the Gospels is essentially true, so does my Mormon identity directly tie to the historical context of Joseph Smith and those long suffering pioneers around him and whether their spiritual experiences (including the events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon) are essentially true.

Friday, June 22, 2012

“It is the Myth that Gives Life”: C.S. Lewis and the True Myth

Note: This is the text from a presentation I made at the Springville Library on June 21, 2012 as part of their "So You Want to Read!" series. Obviously, I was asked to speak on C.S. Lewis. 


Art by Liz Pulido for Zion Theatre Company.
Many people do not know that C.S. Lewis—the unapologetic Christian apologist, the author of spiritual classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, Till We Have Faces, and Mere Christianity —was once an avowed atheist. It was during this early period of skeptical secularism that he went through an intimate, beautiful, and spiritual transformation that led him away from his secular atheism to the road that made him become perhaps the most celebrated Christian author and thinker of the 20th century. It was during this period of change when C.S. Lewis—who preferred the enigmatic nick name “Jack,” which  I will often be calling him by, so don’t get confused—took a night time walk in the woods with two of his friends: J.R.R. Tolkien, future author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; as well as Hugo Dyson, a capable Shakespearean professor and scholar. These three would later make up the core of what would become the celebrated literary group The Inklings, but that illustrious group was still a ways off. This night they were just friends engaged in a life altering conversation that would assist Jack on the last leg of his journey away from his secular past and into his spiritual future.



But Jack wasn’t going down (or up) without a fight. Even though Jack had recently had some powerful spiritual experiences that were leading him back to a belief in God, yet he still resisted the “myth” aspect of Christianity. “Christianity may have many things going for it,” he argued to his friends, “Originality is not one of them.”

C.S. Lewis… or, again, Jack as he preferred… saw Christianity as no different to the other “dying god myths.” The Egyptian god Osiris, the Norse god Balder, the Greek Titan Prometheus… they, too were stories of a god’s death and resurrection, and Christianity was the Johnny come lately to that kind of narrative. Jesus Christ was no different than these more ancient, imaginary gods. That was Jack’s position at the time, one which would change over the course of the evening’s walk in the woods, feeling the nighttime breeze whisper to him another answer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The New Mormon Faithful


At first the shift was subtle. After an age of the high profile excommunications of certain Mormon intellectuals, and when Mormon faithfulness was considered to be contained within a very narrow set of boundaries, it's understandable there may be some who are skeptical about hoping for a more progressive and welcoming vision from the LDS Church. For decades many Mormon writers, artists, and intellectuals within the Church felt on the fringe of their religion. However, here and there, line upon line, precept upon precept, there's been a shift. A real, noticeable, identifiable shift in how the Church is dealing with it's more outside of the box members.

It started under the nuanced leadership of Gordon B. Hinckley (who once told some of his more zealous Brethren to, "leave the intellectuals alone!"). President Hinckley was in so many ways a more media savvy and "modern" prophet, suited to shepherd the change from the 20th to the 21st centuries. But there have been even more noticeable shifts due to the leadership of the current First Presidency: Thomas S. Monson, Henry B. Eyring, and Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Certain things have not been explicitly stated. There has been no outright declaration. But the shift is there. The highest in Church Leadership seem to be saying: "This is a new day. You may feel out of step with some of us, but be comforted. You are welcome here."

I know some may think that I am straining credibility here, especially with the contentious brouhaha that occurred over Proposition 8 and its aftermath. However, even in that scenario, despite the Church's strong stand, there was a sense that the Church understood and accepted those that disagreed with their actions. In one of its many press statements surrounding this conflict, the Church made a statement that I thought was significant:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sketching the Prophet: Portrayals of Joseph Smith in Film

I recently re-watched the DVD of Christian Vuissa's film Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold, which confirmed to me once again why I loved the film. I originally saw the film in a movie theater in Mesa, AZ during its limited theatrical release and I came out of the theater with a quiet, pervading sense washing over me. I left introspective and thoughtful about Joseph Smith's early history, as well as how my role as a Mormon and my role as a playwright/screenwriter/artist interconnect. But I also thought about how absolutely refreshing it was to see a faithful Mormon portray Joseph Smith with a degree of honesty and complexity. That is too rare a quality and I commend Christian Vuissa for making a film that is both candid and faithful, showing that the two are not mutually exclusive qualities.

My experience in watching the LDS Church's official film some years ago, however, was quite the contrast. I went in with rather moderate expectations for Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration when it was originally released for tourists and visitors to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. I had seen previous Church films like Legacy and Testaments and had enjoyed them for what they were--faith affirming films of a moderate quality. Those films weren't high art in my opinion, but they were enjoyable on a certain level and I felt the Spirit in watching them (although I must say Tim Gail, who played Legacy's Joseph Smith, was the most awful on record. Mercifully, Joseph Smith was relegated to a small role in that film).

So I was expecting something along those lines, and was pretty excited if for nothing but the simple fact that I am a big Mormon History buff and had wanted to see a real Joseph Smith biopic produced for some time. I thought it was especially important after the discouraging news that Richard Dutcher was no longer going to make his Joseph Smith film due to lack of funding (this, of course, was before Dutcher left the Church). So in my mind at the time, this was probably the only real Joseph Smith film we were going to get for a while. So when my wife Anne and I went to see it I had moderated expectations, but I also had the slightest sense of hope that it would at least be as good as something like Legacy. Not a hard standard to beat, I thought. Unfortunately, as the film progressed I became increasingly frustrated and distraught.