LDS playwright's 'Adam & Steve' explores allegiances of religion and sexuality
Matthew Greene shares two traits with Adam, one of two characters in his new play "Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea."
Like Adam, Greene is active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And like Adam, he served a mission in Brazil.
Also like Adam, Greene shares an abiding interest in dialogue between the LDS Church and the gay community. But you can't really call the interest a similarity, because just like the tension between many Mormons and gays, points of contention are currently up for dispute.
That contention, couched in the softer blows of friendship under pressure, is what gives Greene's play its unique, tart energy as Adam and his childhood friend Steve discover what it means to stay connected even as their individual paths diverge.
Other writers have been here before, most notably in Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's recent play "8," which chronicles the legal battle over California's Proposition 8 prohibiting same-sex marriage. As part of his research before writing, Black sat through almost all the testimony and proceedings before putting pen to paper.
Greene, a California native and 2010 graduate of Brigham Young University, had a different kind of close-up view as the controversy to the legal challenge began to unfold in 2009.
"I found it so interesting that two groups of people could be so focussed on the same issue and use the same language of 'love,' 'family' and 'commitment,' and yet be talking past each other the whole time," he said. "I was also disappointed that so many people around me on campus could just dismiss the concerns of the other side in such a glib, dismissive way."
Greene's first play, "#MormonInChief," which premiered last year at the New York International Fringe Festival, took on the social-media aftermath of a young man's racist and homophobic Tweets during a church meeting.
For his second drama, "Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea," receiving its world premiere in a Plan-B Theatre production directed by Jason Bowcutt, the running dialogue between gay-rights advocates and LDS Church members finds a new voice. This time, it's through the prism of a childhood friendship that struggles to navigate a course through the maze of young adulthood.
The play jumps around time, from 1995 as two boys play tag under a tree, to 2011, when identities of religion and sexuality begin to take hold.
"I want to feel normal," Steve tells Adam soon after revealing he's gay. "And I guess 'normal' means hanging out here with you, talking about the rest of the world like they're the crazy ones, just like we always did. I thought if things could just be how they always were, you know, I could even picture it out here, just another afternoon with my best friend. I practiced the words, exactly what I would tell you."
A similar exchange of hope and disappointment takes place when Adam tells Steve of his impending LDS mission, breaking a promise that the two would attend the first year of university together.
"I guess I'm a terrible friend," Adam tells Steve. "For wanting something and expecting you to be happy for me. You know, to see that I'm finally on my way to really being OK."
Logan Tarantino, who plays Steve, said Greene's play helps answer the age-old question of where friendship ends and beliefs begin, and also where beliefs end and friendships begin.
Although furnished with lighter notes Adam kids Steve about girls who, clueless to the fact he's gay, swoon at the sight of him most of the dialogue sounds out the limits of how each can best understand the other. When Adam wonders if either of them can "support what you don't understand," the sincerity is painful.
Topher Rasmussen, the actor playing Adam, said the play breathes new life into the ways people negotiate differences, yet still struggle to find ways to care for one another.
"It's a work of serenity amid confusion," Rasmussen said. "If the question of homosexuality and religious demands had a simple answer, people wouldn't still be talking about it."
'Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea'
When • Jan. 31-Feb. 10. Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Studio Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $10-$20; 801-355-ARTS or planbtheatre.org.