- Good Standing by Matthew Greene
Is God the only one who can show love? Depending on the individual or the organization asked, this question inspires a multitude of answers. For Matthew Greene, this question is bound up with similarly complex questions of mercy, justice, and religion, all of which he addresses in his one-man play, Good Standing. The story follows Curtis Browne, a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (informally known as the LDS Church) who has been brought before a disciplinary council to determine whether he can restore his status as a member in good standing, or ultimately face excommunication. His offense? Marrying the man of his dreams. While plenty of plays have taken on the tension between LDS faith and homosexuality, Greene’s approach offers far more commentary on disciplinary councils as systems of justice within the LDS framework by taking the time to introduce and explore the perspectives of all fifteen men arguing and debating the particulars of excommunication. In doing so, Good Standing readily points to the failures of such a system, and in the midst of the hurt, asks what alternative possibilities may be available.
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As the play takes on unwieldy themes of mercy and justice, the text itself is grounded in the highly specific background of the LDS Church. Disciplinary councils, modeled after the US judicial system, exist at the intersection of faith-based repentance and organizational acts of regulation, where members of local priesthood leadership meet and debate on behalf of and against the member in question. (Disciplinary councils held to address gay marriage like the one portrayed in Good Standing have come to be known informally as “courts of love.”) In this context, justice and judgment take on even [End Page 85] more of a celestial consequence, as LDS doctrine teaches that members who do not repent properly to cleanse themselves of sin will face retribution in the hereafter.
The type of religious justice shown in Good Standing is specific and perhaps peculiar. But the justice system as we know it in both civic and religious circumstances is built on this binary of winning and losing—either guilty or not guilty, a member in good standing or excommunicated. What makes Good Standing remarkable is the space it creates between these binaries through Curtis’s failure. Greene further emphasizes this margin by utilizing only one actor to perform all of Curtis’s commentary and narration alongside the warring arguments from the other fifteen members of the council. Greene’s work on Good Standing stands apart from similar narratives, given that his protagonist enters the disciplinary proceedings aware that his stance will likely do nothing to change their judgment. The focus is not on the council’s judgment, and in the space between binaries Greene magnifies the harm of this system and questions the necessity of religious discipline.
In the fall of 2020, the Great Salt Lake Fringe’s entirely digital festival included a streamed production of Good Standing, produced by Next Step Theatre Company and directed by Sam Allen. Salt Lake City, which serves as the worldwide hub for the LDS Church, seemed a fitting location for this particular play, and an appropriate virtual venue through which to experience the story. Rather than accentuating the cultural specificity and familiarity of the LDS Church, Next Step focused on the internal repercussions of marginalization, namely the casual intolerance within the individuals and the institution. This approach reflected how Curtis’s emotional turmoil fueled the anger and resentment toward the disciplinary system and the organization itself, further questioning its necessity.
Upon his first entry as Curtis Browne, Kenneth Starling indicated a sense of disorientation and discomfort with simply existing in the space. Surrounding Starling with an abundance of white folding chairs, Allen’s staging underscored this state of mind as Starling constantly organized and reorganized his surroundings to suit his needs. This disorientation...