ERIC SAMUELSEN IS a faculty playwright at Brigham Young University.

The Plan-B Theatre Company is a Salt Lake troupe with a penchant for mounting plays that would make a lumberjack blush.

Given that gene pool, the union of the two was bound to produce something bizarre — something like Samuelsen's play, "Inversion."

On its face, "Inversion" is about seven young people trapped in a mountain rescue station after an "inversion" smothers the area in fog. When a couple of them try to leave, they come back beaten and bloody. When the kids look in the mirror, they go haywire. They've entered some Twilight Zone. The plot is sketchy, the conclusion inconclusive and — in classic avant garde style — Samuelsen doesn't present the final scene until after the actors have taken their curtain call.

I suspect the attitudes of the seven kids — the bully, the child, the do-gooder — are probably meant to be facets of one personality. In other words, we're watching a single human personality warring with itself.

But I can't be sure.

What I am sure about is "Inversion" is not the kind of fare Mormons will flock to.

Mormons, for the most part, like their theater tidier. They like a story that has a message.

The late Eugene England once said the natural art form for Mormon writers isn't poetry, fiction or even drama. It's the essay.

I think the natural Mormon art form is the morality tale — a story, fact or fiction, that keeps our interest, has some lessons to share and leaves us with a feeling that in the grand battle between good and evil, good is holding its own.

The Bible, the Book of Mormon and LDS history are laced with such stories — the golden calf, the brass plates of Laban, the 30 pieces of silver of Judas and the widow's mite.

Morality tales are the stock-in-trade of the most successful LDS writers today: Stephenie Meyer, Orson Scott Card, Anita Stansfield, Lee Nelson, Gerald Lund, Dean Hughes. They don't delve into the dark recesses of the psyche. They prefer to call out the forces of light to battle that darkness.

That's why Mormon writers excel at westerns, science fiction, romance, thrillers and children's books — all "genres" where good and evil get it on.

And if you're a Mormon writer, you better remember to include a lesson or two in your work.

Mormons spend hours on Sunday listening to lessons. Monday night is set aside for a lesson. The home teachers drop by with even more. The "lesson" is the lifeblood of Mormonism. And the morality tale is the most engaging way to deliver a lesson.

In the end, I wish Samuelsen and "Inversion" well. He has the good fortune of belonging to a culture that sees art and writing as important, but a culture that says, "If a play doesn't teach us how to live, what's the point?"

Mormons tend to be doers, not navel-gazers. That's their strength.

But that attitude can at times be an Achilles' heel — a vulnerability that playwrights like Samuelsen continue to address.


Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.


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