Pictured Steven Fales
Author and Performer: Steven Fales
Bailiwick Repertory Theatre,
1229 W. Belmont
Phone: ( 773 ) 883-1090; $25-$30
Runs through: Jan. 16
As a professional actor, singer and dancer, Steven Fales is eager to show and tell all about his life in his autobiographical one-man show Confessions of a Mormon Boy. Well, almost all—Fales made certain that his show contains no profanity or full-frontal nudity.
That's to be expected of a man who became an Eagle Scout, a Mormon missionary, a husband and a father. In his recent acting career, Fales has declined three major offers to show 'the full monty' onstage, and that's even after he started working as a high-priced Manhattan escort.
Yes, you heard it right. In 2000, Fales divorced and was excommunicated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after his failed attempts at 'reparative therapy' to overcome 'same-sex attraction.' ( The Mormon Church frowns on terms like 'gay' or 'homosexual,' lest they become legitimized in society and the language. )
Emotionally and financially broken, Fales moved to New York and turned to escorting to make a living, and drugs to cope. Even with two job offers to join the off-Broadway cast of Naked Boys Singing!, Fales stuck to escorting because he calculated that he could make more money in one night than in an entire week of performing under an off-Broadway Equity contract.
'I think there's a connection between spiritual abuse and sex work,' Fales said in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City. 'There are so many good Episcopalian or Catholic and yes, good Mormon boys, working as escorts who have suffered spiritual abuse who then take it out sexually. A lot is looking for validation and it's not as uncommon as you might think.'
Fales is making his Chicago debut at the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre with Confessions of a Mormon Boy, a show he has been developing and fine-tuning since 2001. The critically acclaimed show has played in Portland, San Francisco, Miami, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, where it was a box office hit in three different productions.
Director Jack Hofsiss, a Tony Award-winner for The Elephant Man in 1979, helped tighten the material and build interest in the show. It was slated to play off-Broadway for an open run in 2003, but Fales said the production was scrapped over his refusal to show full-frontal nudity at a point in the show where he removes his sacred Mormon undergarments.
'As a recovering prostitute, I thought doing that would undermine what I was doing,' Fales said about his conflict with his producers.
'I wanted Mormons to be a target audience so I had to make sure there was no swearing or nudity.'
Fales waited to get the rights back to his show. It scored a hit at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival where Fales received a citation for Overall Excellence in a Solo Show. After the show's two-week Chicago run, Fales aims to get an off-Broadway berth for Confessions of a Mormon Boy in Fall 2005.
For Fales, developing and working on the show has been a major force in helping him to reconcile his homosexuality with his faith and to break away from escorting. He has discovered that telling his story is not only therapeutic for himself, but for many others.
'Well, I just have to say that gay Mormons find me,' laughed Fales, noting how one man flew from Anchorage, Alaska, specifically to see the show during its San Francisco run. 'And it's not just for Mormons.'
Fales feels his story parallels those of many religious gay fathers who are torn between what their faith expects of them and their homosexual nature.
'This is their story,' Fales said. 'You try to do the right thing, have kids and marry. But there's that other gay side and the costs it brings to you and your family from repressing it.'
Performing Confessions of a Mormon Boy has drawn out wildly divergent reactions from members of Fales' family. He says two siblings call it 'shameful and ungodly,' while another brother and his father's devout Mormon sister are so supportive that they want to raise money to make an off-Broadway run happen.
He has the support of his father, who Fales says still takes a 'love the sinner, hate the sin' approach to him and the show.
Most importantly, Fales has the blessing to do the show from his ex-wife, and of his mother-in-law, Carol Lynn Pearson ( the author of the 1980s memoir Goodbye, I Love You which focuses on her relationship with her gay ex-husband and reopening her home to him when he was dying from AIDS ) .
'The first time ( Pearson ) heard me on the phone she had red flags going,' Fales said. 'We chose not to tell her that I was dealing with same-sex attraction because we felt with new therapy we would be OK. We put our faith in the church and ourselves to rewrite history. That proved more than we could bargain for.'
In light of the recent divisive presidential election, Bailiwick artistic director David Zak feels now is the time to present another work in the tradition of Corpus Christi and Southern Baptist Sissies, which point up the contradictions between religion and homosexuality.
'I think there's a huge price to be paid for denial and not getting support of your family and religion,' Zak said, though he adds that not everyone goes to Fales' extremes of becoming an escort. 'It's instructive to hear about someone who had to go that far before coming back from the brink of that.'
Lest people think that Confessions will be just one long tirade against religion, Fales notes that it 'still keeps its generosity with Mormonism, but at the same time it spells things out.'
'I don't let anyone off the hook, especially myself,' Fales said. 'I'm learning how to stop being a victim.'