Try as you might, you can't escape his smile. Steven Fales isn't far off when he compares himself to an Osmond (Donny or Marie, there's some confusion there): His pearly whites could certainly qualify him for honorary membership in that clan. As it is, he has no compunction about revealing them often enough to just maybe blind you.
The dazzling artifice they suggest is part of the point of Fales's one-man show at the SoHo Playhouse, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, returning to New York after a successful 2004 Fringe Festival run. It's also an enormous part of the problem. Fales initially used those gorgeous teeth as a defensive measure, to present a consistently happy face to the world even though his soul was rotting away. But old habits die hard - as he relates his story, he works just as feverishly to keep you out of his life as he does to draw you in.
He does, however, provide a number of key facts. He's sixth generation Mormon; he's a lifelong actor and singer; he was pressured by his family and the Church into living a straight life, which involved therapy for his same-sex attraction and, eventually, the expected marriage and children; when he could no longer maintain his fašade, he got divorced, was excommunicated, and started his life anew as a hustler in New York City.
His story of how the Church's attempts to love and help him set him on the path to depravity, and how he eventually pulled himself back from the brink of hell, is a compelling and surprisingly humorous one. It might amount to little more than an exhortation to be true to yourself, whether about your sexuality, your career, or anything else flying in the face of personal or societal convention, but the message is powerful nonetheless. Fales really does seem like someone you might like to know.
But he never, ever makes this easy. Despite complaining time and time again of having to pretend to be something he's not, Confessions of a Mormon Boy is 90 full minutes of just such a performance. (The utterly ineffectual direction is by Jack Hofsiss.) It's not long before even Fales's teeth seem false enough to require regular applications of Polident: From beginning to end, Fales displays the sheen - and the personality - of an animated wax statue.
Every line, infused with any emotion and referencing any subject, is spoken as though it were printed in the script entirely in italics. His sing-songy delivery is reminiscent of how an adult reads a story to a very young child: Each moment is stressed cloyingly enough to ensure that you don't miss a single detail, and that you won't be disturbed by any of it, because you have to go to bed early and don't want any nightmares.
That's all well and good for the kindergarten circuit. And, early on, it's an effective way for him to theatrically represent the closed borders and closed minds of Mormonism. But when the topics drift to prostitution, crystal meth, and Cameron Mackintosh musicals, you need him to open up about not just the details of his life, but how they affected him emotionally. That road is apparently still too painful for him to traverse. (It might also explain why his acting career has yet to take off.)
Only when Fales describes how he began his recovery from self-absorption and self-abuse does he let his guard down and become an identifiable human being. His voice loses all traces of affected musical cadences, his body stops looking artificially inflated, and he just talks. His speech is heartbreaking in its simplicity and honesty, and it becomes as difficult not to love the man who's willing to be himself as it had been to love the man who forced himself to be anyone but.
Before long, though, it's over and the wind-up-toy Fales has returned. At that point, only a few minutes of show remain. But his entire life lies ahead - who will he spend it living as? It's impossible to say - who has he been until now? So much of what he says bears so little relationship to how he says it, you feel that you can't take most of it at face value. I'm willing to give Fales the benefit of the doubt; I just wish I didn't have to.
Confessions of a Mormon Boy