This review of Steven Fales' Cult Model at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written & Performed by Steven Fales
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Steven Fales is a talented, personable and charismatic entertainer who is able to captivate the audience when sharing the story of his personal journey, which included being an LDS missionary, eager pupil of conversion therapy, husband, father, heretic, escort, crystal meth addict, and ultimately, playwright. He is at his best when sharing his truth and experiences. Fales was born in Provo, Utah and was raised in Los Angeles before moving to Las Vegas when he was eleven. He first trained at the Boston Conservatory on scholarship and after serving a two-year mission for the LDS Church in Portugal, transferred to Brigham Young University where he received his Bachelor in Fine Arts in musical theater. He also obtained a Masters in Fine Arts in acting from the University of Connecticut. He was an Eagle Scout, married, had two kids, divorced, was formally excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and, at age 30, moved to New York City where, after looking for work as an actor, he took a job for nine months as a high end escort.
I went to see this world premiere of the completely rewritten and revamped Cult Model without any knowledge of Steven Fales' past accomplishments, which apparently are many. After leaving the escort business in 2001 (and for your information, yes, he happily accepted American Express), he wrote Confessions Of A Mormon Boy, which ran at the SoHo Playhouse and became an International and Off-Broadway hit (Part One in "The Mormon Boy Trilogy"; Part Two and Three - a prequel and sequel - are called Missionary Position and Prodigal Dad). Steven Fales is an award-winning veteran of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, two New York International Fringe Festivals (Overall Excellence Award), the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (Oscar Wilde Award Nomination), Atlantic Fringe Festival (Overall Fringe Hit Award), and the Acts Of Faith Festival. His past cabaret acts include Mormon American Princess, Mormon American Cowboy, Conversations With Heavenly Mother: An Uncommon Diva, Joseph III, When All Else Fales, and Cult! The book Confessions Of A Mormon Boy: Behind The Scenes Of The Off-Broadway Hit was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist.
Cult Model began as a stand-up show Fales called Cult! written during a ten-week run of Confessions Of A Mormon Boy at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami in 2003. Later that summer, he performed it as a presentation at the 2003 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City (the Mormon International Fringe Festival) and as a benefit for the Utah AIDS Foundation at Wise Guys Comedy Club. The project was then shelved because the hostility against him was so great he feared he would be kept from seeing his children as the non-custodial parent if he continued to perform it. Now that his children are grown, he took Cult! off the shelf and restyled it as Cult Model, a show he just recently performed at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. An IndieGoGo campaign for that show raised $595.00 of the $10,000.00 he sought. Eight people contributed and two of them took advantage of the Underwear/Jock Package. For donating $100.00, you received a pair of the black underwear or jock "Mormon Boy" wears onstage in all his work (and if you preferred lightly worn/gently used pairs, you could get them for an additional $25.00).
This run of Cult Model at The Laurie Beechman Theatre has been designated the world premiere of this 60-minute solo act, after which he intends to take it on the road. The show contains a number of parody songs and a book that is supposed to tie the songs together. His best parody is to Barry Manilow's I Write The Songs, called I Formed The Cults, which on the surface, of course, doesn't make any sense, but it does contain some interesting lyrics such as "I formed the cults...that take your mind off real things, that take away your rights, that recruit day and night." Steven Fales tells the audience he has an Obsessive Cult Disorder ("you can take the kid out of the cult, but you can't take the cult out of the kid"), which has made his life "very diffiCULT." He announced he intended to be our Cult Model for the night and "to take us on a journey to cult consciousness." In the end, he confesses we all seek to join cults but we should at least think about whether we are getting more out of the cult than we are putting in.
Steven Fales has a very broad definition of what constitutes a cult, which includes the cult of being a sex worker, the cult of being a Yankees fan, the cult of being in love, the cult of being a pot smoker, the cult of being a believer in astrology, the cult of being a Starbucks customer, the cult of being a libertarian, the cult of being a Hillary Clinton supporter and the cult of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as examples. He claims he rates cults on a scale of one to ten, with those rated number one requiring only a loose affiliation such as the Episcopal Church. Those rated at number 2 on the scale might demand more of a time commitment, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Scientology might be rated at five. Others like the Mafia and ISIS at maybe six or seven depending on whether they will kill you if you leave, and whether they eventually intend to dominate and take over the planet. He never fully explains his rating system and only generally references it.
While I agree with his expanded definition of cults, Steven Fales did not appear to me to have properly and thoroughly investigated the topic. For example, he believes joining cults is a uniquely American phenomenon and that in all other countries, its citizens are able to join only one or two state-sanctioned cults, at most. This belief is incorrect and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the desire of all human beings for esprit-de-corps and a sense of belonging. In addition, while he is correct most cults have a charismatic leader, a sacred text, and a means to excommunicate a heretic, not all have a martyred leader and a difficult journey cult members must go through to bond with each other, although hazing does play that role in fraternities, the Navy Seals, and in Fire Departments. Steven Fales needs to do extensive sociological research before he seriously considers writing a book on the subject.
Cult Model is an extremely underrehearsed show not yet ready for prime time. Steven Fales actually came on stage with a music stand containing the lyrics to a number of songs he had not yet memorized as well as the script and order of his presentations, which he referred to often. It was as if the audience was seeing the first rehearsal for the show. Matt Baker accompanied him on the piano but it was clear they had not sufficiently rehearsed the material. Cues were missed, sheet music fell on the floor, and at one point, Steven Fales just told Matt Baker to stop playing so he could just read the lyrics to a particularly difficult song. Steven Fales on the other hand, included too much material and too many characters from other shows which distracted from the message and story of this show. He completely failed to integrate a coherent story with the song parodies he presented. He didn't even learn how to properly pronounce Ayn Rand, when making a reference to Objectivism (https://youtu.be/gb5B2RkqS00).
As previously mentioned, Steven Fales was strongest when revealing personal stories from his past. Other stories did not have the same depth or substance, and he never clearly shared his definition of "cult" or what makes one a "cultaholic." While we were told in advance Steven Fales "always strips down to his underwear in every cabaret show" as reflected in the text of his IndieGoGo campaign, in this show he took off his suit and tie, and only opened the top three buttons of his dress shirt. On the positive side, Steven Fales has a strong stage presence, is easy on the eyes, and has the ability to endear himself to the audience. In other words, he still knows how "to work it."
There will be two more performances of Cult Model on Thursday, October 22nd at 7:00 p.m. and on Friday, October 23rd at 8:00 p.m. at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. Tickets are available for $22.00 at www.SpinCylceNYC.com or by phone at 212-352-3101. There is a $20.00 food/beverage minimum at each performance.