Theatre: Light Through the Darkness

By Carol Lynn Pearson

"Facing East" looks into the heart of gay suicide. Author Carol Lynn Pearson shares how she came to write the screenplay. theatreI fell in love with the theatre when I was six or seven. I have a strong memory of playing Raggedy Andy in a Primary production at our LDS ward chapel. I can remember how my costume looked and felt. I can even remember the words and the tune to the little song I sang, holding the hand of Raggedy Ann. But mostly I remember there was some indefinable magic happening-people watching attentively, light shining through the darkness.

Deciding to major in drama at BYU was not a difficult choice, and I would have liked nothing better than to spend my life as an actor. But the doors that opened for me after graduation were the writing doors. And of the various genres in which I've written, none excites me more than playwriting.

In 2004 I had a personal and professional crisis, during which I decided that for the rest of my life, I would write only what I alone could write. If I felt that something could possibly be written by someone else, it would have to be off-limits to me. At the last minute I didn't sign a book contract and committed instead to write a new play, "Pieces of God," knowing it might never be produced, but would feed my soul and say what I alone could say.

After that play was finished, I took a weekend playwriting seminar, hoping to refine it. But the teacher surprised me with his very first instruction. "Pick up your pen and write down the subject of a new play you want to write and list the reasons you are not writing it. You have two minutes." New play? I hadn't come for that. Quick. What is a new play I want to write? I put pen to paper and without thinking wrote, "Mormon family confronts suicide of gay son."

After the seminar, as I studied the notes I'd taken and snippets of scenes I'd written, it was clear that I'd opened a very big door. The subject was dramatic, important, urgent even. And yes, I did have a unique platform from which to speak. My Mormon temple marriage to a gay man and consequent events had filled my life with a realization of how badly we-society, and especially religious communities like mine – deal with homosexuality, and how condemnation and hopelessness too often drive gay people to suicide.

The suicide attempt of a gay man who had become a dear friend still haunted me. And I knew that Utah's statistics on suicide-now placing the state first in the nation for suicides of men 15-24 (probably close to a third of those gay men)-was itself a cry for help.

What is better equipped to answer that cry than drama? Nothing else I know of has the immediate magic that invites one person into the heart of another like theatre does, to shine that much needed light through the darkness. Soon three characters began to speak to me. And before long they had a story in "Facing East."

The story consumed me and distressed me. We do such violence to our gay people and their families when we speak glibly of how God views homosexuals, and that plays into the larger issues that wreak such havoc all over the world-people pronouncing that God loves this people and hates that people. The need to introduce human faces, human hearts into the conversation, hoping that we then will address the subject of homosexuality with better information and with more reverence drove me to write this play. A diary excerpt gives a glimpse of my experience:

June 6, 2005, Monday

Did good work on the play today. Wrote the ending. Cried again. I didn't expect to write the play this way, here a piece, there a piece. It's just happening this way. I'm writing the places that appear clear. And trust the others to follow…. No villains really. Pain and blame to share. Indictment and invitation. Love and poison mixed together.

No question that the play is an indictment. We all bear some responsibility for these lives that are tragically lost. I expect the play may generate some heated conversation. I hope that it will. But it is not only an indictment. It's an invitation, too.

"Facing East" took me into a lot of sadness. Maybe I went through my own personal stages of grief from anger to action to hope. I have a lot of hope on this subject. We can and we must do better. I hope the audience is haunted for days, weeks, months, forever, with the awful tragedy of people taking their lives because they feel condemned by their religion and consequently by their God. I hope every member of the audience goes out and does one small thing, has one conversation, reaches out in whatever way they can to ease the pain of an individual or a family caught between their religion and the reality of the homosexual condition.

Not an impossible hope. The theatre is magic and that light that shines through the darkness will serve us well. 

Carol Lynn Pearson is the author of "Goodbye, I Love You," numerous books of poetry and, most recently, "No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones."

This article was originally published on November 28, 2006.