I know it’ll seem incomprehensible to you fans of talking turds, but I’ve never paid Comedy Central’s South Park much mind one way or another. And when New York fell all over itself last year appreciating The Book of Mormon, I wondered if there wasn’t just a smidge of hyperbole in calling the musical by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (along with Robert Lopez) the best of the “century.”
Now that I’ve seen the Chicago production, however, I’ve been—well—converted.
A wise mix of nasty satire and compassionate truth telling, Parker, Stone, and Lopez’s tale of Mormon missionaries in Uganda is as entertaining—and, strangely, uplifting—a piece of work as anything in recent American theater. Although the book draws whole quivers full of big red arrows to everything that’s ludicrous about the Mormon way, it also ends up making a case for the hope we all derive from silly myths. Meanwhile, playful as it is, it ranks up there with Lynn Nottage’s Ruined in exposing the danger, dignity, and distortions of African life. The cast is uniformly and perfectly seductive. And is that Steppenwolf’s famously earnest James Vincent Meredith, showing a new side of himself as the Ugandan village chief? Incredible.