Readers who remember Laurie Mecham’s hilarious columns about Utah life from previous issues of QSaltLake and its previous incarnation, Salt Lake Metro might not be surprised to learn that the now Oregon-based writer once did stand up comedy.
But they might be surprised to learn that she’s now helping a Utah actor perfect his own one-person show.
Currently, Mecham is flying back and forth between her home in Portland and Salt Lake City to direct The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon, a play about KRCL’s infamous Mormon mother and unlikely gay rights activist by KRCL host Troy Williams and actor Charles Frost, who plays Dottie.
Mecham said she was a little surprised when Williams, Frost and producer Fran Pruyn emailed with the offer.
“They said, ‘We know that you’re in Portland and we’re doing this play in Salt Lake and it won’t really make sense, but how about this proposal?’” she recalls. “I said, ‘If you’re willing to be responsible for choosing me, I’ll be willing to do it. It sounds like fun.’”
Mecham assumes the three chose her for the job because she had once created a character very much like Sister Dottie. Years before lovable Dottie took to the airwaves with tales of her gay son and colorful ward members, Sister Fonda ala Mode performed for Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, a group of former and current Latter-day Saints coming to terms with their sexuality and their Mormon upbringing.
There were some key differences between the two characters, however.
“Dottie’s really feisty and has strong political ideals, and Fonda was so naive,” says Mecham. “She used a lot of malapropisms and misspoke a lot. In an attempt to say the right thing in the right way, she put her foot in her mouth a lot. But the thing they have in common is they’re very devout Mormon women who have hearts of gold. Just loving people.”
“[Fonda] was sort of a healing laughter kind of thing,” Mecham continues. “I think that’s what Dottie is, and I think this play [The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon] will be a wonderful vehicle for people to laugh at common experiences. I think they’ll have a lot of fun with it. There’s a lot to laugh at, but there’s a real deep vain of pain and trauma that people are going to relate to, that you need to laugh about.”
In fact, it was that undercurrent of pain that Mecham said she found missing in the script when she first flew out to help Williams and Frost shape the play earlier this year. Mecham said she liked the jokes and the broad ideas the two men had sketched out, but she felt that they needed to go further.
“I said, ‘Come on, you guys have been there!’” Mecham says. “[Based on] my friendships and people I know, I think so many men have had just such a big crisis when they’ve had to come out to their families. They’ve struggled and realized this [being gay] is true. Their parents [have been] devastated and [have had] to choose between their church and their child sometimes.” She should know, she adds. After she came out she and her father did not speak for three years.
Mecham says she was astounded at how fast Williams could flesh out her suggestions. Often, she says, he would leave the room to write while she and Frost worked on something else and return shortly with a draft of a new scene.
“I’m really happy with what we’ve got. They’ve just come up with some lovely gems,” she says.
Mecham returned in April to help Frost with blocking and refining his performance. She will also come back a week before opening night to do some last-minute touch ups.
“I mean I can’t really direct the play in the traditional sense because a director does all the tech things and harnesses all the production staff and makes a lot of decisions about the look and feel of the play and I’m only peripherally involved in a lot of that,” she says, noting that things such as putting together sound effects are handled by Frost and Pruyn.
“There are things that have happened that Charles and Fran have largely put into place,” she says. “It’s a collaborative thing.”
Returning to Salt Lake has brought back memories for Mecham. Despite Utah’s flaws, she says she misses the sense of community she had here.
“Portland is a really cool place, I really do like Portland, but I don’t have a community here. That’s something that takes a long time to develop,” she says. While in Utah, she notes that she could try out acting, creating characters like Fonda ala Mode and writing for Salt Lake Metro while feeling supported by the gays and lesbians here.
“I’m not like yearning for Zion, It’s not like I sit and miss it, but it was sure nice to have a community,” she says.
And whether directing plays about eccentric Mormon women or talking with people from Portland, Mecham says she doesn’t miss an opportunity to “let people know how great alt Lake is.”
“There’s just so much to do. It made it easy to write a column,” she laughs. “All you had to do was open a newspaper, especially if the legislature was in session. Nobody cares if you’re gay here in Portland. It’s like OK great, see you next time.”
The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon will run May 1 – 16 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W 300 S. Tickets can be purchased at pygmalionproductions.org/tickets.