Bountiful (Stage 35 L’Unithéâtre at La Cité francophone)
Surely there is a compelling theatre piece to be written and staged surrounding the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community in Bountiful, B.C. For years, Warren Jeffs — the American “Prophet” of the breakaway Mormon faith, now serving a prison sentence in the U.S. — has been in the news along with his Canadian Bishop. In June, Bountiful’s Winston Blackmore (who was found to have taken two dozen wives) and James Ohler (five wives) were sentenced by a B.C. Supreme Court judge to house arrest and community service for practising polygamy.
And the idea to tell the story to a “gentile” audience via a conflicted but still-in-the-fold-church “sister” is a particularly inspired artistic decison, one made by Bountiful’s Edmontonplaywright/ designer/ director Rebecca Merkley. Heaven knows, the sect has had plenty of bad press, most of it richly deserved. But what does it look like from the inside? And from the perspective of women?
Merkley knows something about this from personal experience, too, as she grew up in nearby Creston, B.C. And as she points out in the program notes, the play is indeed inspired by real events.
There’s not much faulting the (generally) perfectly competent cast here, or even the direction or staging. There are indeed some winning musical moments. Actors Kayla Gorman, Jameela McNeil, Laura Raboud and Emma Wilmott give it their all. Gorman, the narrator, is particularly effective and McNeil delivers a typically strong turn. But they aren’t given many favours. Real people — even cultists — just don’t talk like this, do they?
No, the problem here is the storytelling, the script. It’s frankly all-too-often turgid, simplistic, and doesn’t traverse the basic dialogue believability bar. And while we don’t expect to feel uplifted by the vicissitudes of the Bountiful FLDS, the mild depression you feel on the way out has less to do with a misguided, creepy and sometimes unlawful sect and its blinkered faithful, but with the sense that this is a well-intentioned, well-poised opportunity missed.
— Alan Kellogg