Toxic Theater

I made the mistake of going to Broadway to see The Book of Mormon. The creators of SouthPark did imagine an amusing scenario: a pair of young Mormon missionaries arrive in Uganda where life is so bad that the people hate God. How will the one missionary (who wanted to go to Disney World in Orlando) and the other (who is friendless and a liar) be able to cope?

Unfortunately, they cope with an inordinate amount of filthy language. It’s amazing to watch an audience of apparently normal people laughing hysterically to language that in any other context would be offensive. The overpriced scalper tickets do carry a warning: “Parental Advisory: Explicit Language”. Of course, by the time you have the tickets it’s too late to heed a warning like that.

Does it matter that people have been anesthetized to the meaning of words? So that words once capable of shocking are used so often in comedy—for example, in comedy clubs—that the person might as well be saying “Uh” over and over again. What a shame that the beauty of language, its possible poetry, is violated in a way that many people don’t even seem aware of.

Beyond the language, certain concepts were not suitable for humor (for example, one character believes raping a baby is a cure for Aids). This example could be multiplied, but have the creators of this comedy forgotten that Africa is a real continent with profound and disturbing issues such as some areas subject to endemic warfare that includes the systematic rape of women, poverty, and, of course, disease.

Mormonism might be a fair topic for satire (as might various Christian denominations or even Islam if you aren’t worried about fatwas), but this isn’t satire that punctures myths and leaves a deepened understanding as its aftermath. It is a pricy, parlous, sad exploitation that theater lovers should attend only if forewarned.

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