Washington Blade - April 22, 2005

Cherry on top
Theater company returns with silent film satirizing prejudice against Mormons
Friday, April 22, 2005

CHERRY RED PRODUCTIONS has a history of talking smack.

Well, maybe not talking smack, but the D.C. gay-owned theater production company (which went on hiatus from producing full seasons of plays last year) has a history of satirizing serious subjects.

“The idea is always to stimulate thought,” says Ian Allen, Cherry Red’s artistic director. “If we’re parodying something, we’re going to show the opposite of what we think.”

With past shows with such provocative titles as “Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack,” “Baked Baby,” and “Zombie Attack!” the outrageous company certainly did plenty of parodying.

Sticking with the wild titles and serious spoofing, Cherry Red’s newest venture, the 69-minute “Trapped by the Mormons,” opens in D.C. on Friday, April 22 — but on a screen instead of a stage.

Cherry Red’s first movie, made on a $10,000 budget and filmed over four weekends last October, is a remake of the 1922 silent film of the same title, which was a popular piece of propaganda in England in the 1920s when the country was overcome with anti-Mormon hysteria.

Adaptor/director Allen, who was raised a Mormon in Salt Lake City but no longer practices, had heard about the original film from his youth and finally found a copy on the Internet five years ago.

“I’ve always been interested in enlightening people about Mormons,” he says. He’s not quite a missionary for the Church of Latter Day Saints, but he found it odd that he experienced prejudice against the religion from people he met outside of Salt Lake City.

“People see [Mormonism] as foreign and they’re afraid of it or they think it’s creepy or weird,” he says. “The movie’s about satirizing that, the knee-jerk reaction people have toward Mormons.”

JUST LIKE THE original movie, Cherry Red’s film tells the story of Isoldi Keane (played by drag king Johnny Kat, also known as Stacey Whitmire) the top recruiter in all of Mormondom. He uses his hypnotic stare to lure London secretary Nora Prescott (Emily Riehl-Bedford) away from her family and macho fiancé.

Eventually, Nora is saved from being shipped off to Salt Lake City to become part of Keene’s orgiastic, polygamist harem.

Also, just like the original, Allen decided to leave the film silent.

“A big part of the film is the narrator, who is so biased against Mormons that it’s absurd,” he says about the narrative title cards that appear throughout the film to deliver dialogue and biased observations about the Church of Latter Day Saints.

To get the authenticity of a period film, everything was shot on digital video and then digitally manipulated to look like old film stock. Using the space and materials of the Washington Shakespeare Company’s storage facility in Arlington, Va., all the sets in the movie were built by hand in a studio setting, just like in the olden days.

“Our amateurishness translated well to the early days of filmmaking,” Allen says.

But he’s right. Between the excellent costumes by Rhonda Key, the digital aging and low-budget special effects, “Mormons” looks like a pretty authentic silent film. Allen notes that all the people who worked on it, including the actors and director, donated their time.

Riehl-Bedford, with her round face and dreamy eyes, looks like she could give Clara Bow a run for her money. And Johnny Kat, looking effeminately masculine, gives Keane a lecherous intensity.

Cherry Red regulars Monique LaForce as Sadie Keane and Richard Renfield (who also composed the score with help from DJ Lobster Boy) as Elder Kayler deserve praise; their hammy, over-the-top antics are spot-on for a silly silent film.

The film is being screened in a new space in D.C., the Warehouse Screening Room, part of the Warehouse arts complex at 1021 7th St., NW. The new, 45-seat space for local filmmakers joins the venue’s two theaters, art gallery, music venue and cafe to provide another space for indigenous, underground and small-scale productions.