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The Most Perfect Place on Earth
July 3, 2011
You have to hand it to Wendy—she stays on top of things. When the initial review of The Book of Mormon appeared in the New York Times, she went upstairs and ordered matinee tickets for a mere $137 each. (The few tickets available today start at $300.)

We almost missed the show. As we lounged about late one Sunday morning, Wendy happened across the tickets in her download file and came crashing downstairs with news that we had to be in the city by 2:00. We made a dash for Ronkonkoma and settled into our seats at the Eugene O'Neill Theater twenty minutes ahead of curtain.

The show is certainly worthy of the Tony Award for Best Musical. Except for its explicitly profane language and sacrilegious treatment of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, it is reminiscent of the glory days of the Broadway musical—in the tradition of My Fair Lady and Camelot—funny, engaging and, in an odd way, inspirational.

For all its irreverence, the plot is sweet. A pair of newly minted Mormon elders—one, Elder Price, an evangelistic superstar, the other, Elder Cunningham, a loser with a propensity for making up stories—are posted to a mission in northern Uganda where they fail to score even one baptism. The murder of an innocent villager unnerves Price who starts packing but Cunningham determines to 'man up' and stay the course.

A young villager named Nabulungi falls prey to the lure of Sal Tlay Ka Siti, which she imagines to be the most perfect place on earth "where the goat meat is plentiful and the roofs are thatched with gold." She convinces her neighbors to listen to the white boy, but when they discover just how boring the Book of Mormon really is, they become restive. Cunningham reclaims them by spicing up the gospel with wildly imaginative episodes relevant to the lives of the villagers.

Meanwhile, Price has second thoughts about deserting his partner when he experiences the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, a recurring Mormon nightmare that features Genghis Kahn, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnny Cochran. He is particularly appalled when Jesus Christ calls him a dick.

Nabulungi's illusion that there really is a Salt Lake City is shattered when the Mission President, visiting from America, declares Cunningham's version of the gospel nonsense. She is heartened to learn from one of the villagers, however, that Salt Lake City is only a metaphor. The Mormon missionaries ultimately succeed in converting the villagers, not on the strength of their religious faith, but by finding a common humanity with them.

The play itself is a metaphor: a contrast of black and white, animalistic and hyper-repressed, preacher and preached at. The naive faith of one girl that she can escape the terrors of her existence coupled with the resolve of a screw-up to do something right for once in his life ultimately reaffirm our hope that "the most perfect place on earth" can be real, at least for a few hours.