It’s impossible to discuss Missa Solemnis or the Play About Henry without mentioning that I happened to see it the same day California's Proposition 8 was passed into law. The politics of Proposition 8 are virtually identical to those of 2000’s Proposition 22, the law that prompted the suicide of gay Mormon Henry Stuart Mathis (the one difference being that this time, voters were taking away rights that homosexuals had previously been awarded). In both cases, the Mormon church played a heavy role in bankrolling the anti-gay marriage efforts.
Playwright Roman Fesser had to contend with current events while creating a work of drama that could stand firm in its own right. He may not have completely succeeded, but the results are stunning. Through a deceptively cunning narrative structure, Fesser has forced audiences to internalize Henry Mathis's struggle, and Missa Solemnis succeeds as a play both timely and convincing in its portrayal of a tortured soul who, as in all good tragedies, is a noble human being trapped by circumstance.
It's important to remember that Mormon hatred of gays is not just homophobia: it’s an increasingly crucial part of an all-encompassing theology, a theology that is, to its adherents, perfect and infallible. Yet that theology stands in direct conflict with human biology, an all-encompassing system of beliefs in its own right. In New York, of course, the latter point of view dominates.
In a good Mormon household, conversely, the dividing line is much blurrier. Mormons accept modern medicine and general science, except when its ambiguities clash with a question that is inflexible in terms of Mormon thought. Above, I called Mathis a gay Mormon. Let me correct myself: there is no such thing as a gay Mormon. Central to Mathis’ struggle is the fundamental incompatibility of the Mormon belief, via Christianity, that attraction to the same gender is a wicked behavior, with the belief that homosexuality is innate in a percentage of individuals. An individual can combine the two as he pleases, but if he does so, he has stepped outside the bounds of Mormonism.