It’s not every day you get to have a conversation with the founder of a major(ish) world religion, but there I was last week, hitting up Joseph Smith on his cell phone.
“Faith is important, and faith is what serves you best,” said the man on the other end of the line. “It serves a purpose, and that purpose is up to you.”
No, I had not rang up 1-800-DIAL-A-PROPHECY, but in talking to Ron Bohmer, who plays Smith, among other characters, in the traveling show of Book of Mormon now in town, I was doing the next best thing.
“It’s an incredibly smart message,” Bohmer said of the show, “and maybe one you don’t expect from the creators of South Park — or maybe you do.”
Book of Mormon, as you might have heard, is a genuine riot. It gives you the full spectrum of humor, from riffs on the golden absurdity of blind faith, to a through-line about maggots in a man’s scrotum that brings the house down more than once.
“Real comedy comes from telling the truth, and they’ve certainly come to the truth, and expressed it in an entertaining way,” said Bohmer.
Few entertainment experiences can compare to the pomp and panache of a Broadway-style show, and Book of Mormon does not disappoint in that regard. The beautiful sets, soaring voices, and Manhattan brass polish are all there. This is one of those shows that appeals equally to veteran theater-goers and folks showing up for the date night novelty.
“There are a lot of people who come to the show who have never been to a musical show — maybe they’ve seen an ad on Comedy Central — and I think it’s great,” said Bohmer, who in a long career also played the Phantom, among numerous roles. “I’m delighted that this new voice has arisen to bring that audience into theaters. It’s really sensational.”
Sensational — and, at times, sensationally vulgar.
“Not a show for the faint of heart, anyway,” said Bohmer. “When you think of the most offensive word you can think of…. and we say one worse than that. It’s not done to offend. The use of the strong language in the show is circumstantial.”
The jokes, the songs, the pageantry, they’re all great, but what makes Book of Mormon special is not how it sends up the Church of Latter Day Saints, but rather how it encourages the audience to dive deeper into their own religious beliefs, no matter what they are.
When the texts of all our religions have equally dubious origins, do any of the details matter?
In a world where every day there are babies born into poverty with AIDS, can it really be an honest truism that God rewards in accordance to one’s faith and piety?
Because, seriously, somebody in real life out there right now has maggots in their scrotum. Definitely go see Book of Mormon and laugh until your religious regalia rattles, but on the ride home, take the opportunity the show provides to dig a little deeper into the way America, in particular, actualizes it’s faith, and what purpose the thoughts and prayers are really serving.
The show is in town through Sunday. For more info or tickets, click here.