Cheryl Ann Cluff on diving into Eric Samuelsen's 3

Cheryl Ann Cluff

Cheryl Ann Cluff

Cheryl Ann Cluff is directing Eric Samuelsen’s 3 as part of the #SeasonOfEric.  She is the Managing Director of Plan-B Theatre Company, which she co-founded in 1991.  She has designed sound for nearly every Plan-B production since 2000 and has directed MESA VERDE, THE SCARLET LETTER and SUFFRAGE, as well as every episode of RADIO HOUR, most recently EPISODE 8: FAIRYANA, also by Eric Samuelsen.

If you chance to meet a frown,
Do not let it stay.
Quickly turn it upside down and smile that frown away.
No-one likes a frowning face.
Change it to a smile.
Make the world a better place by smiling all the while.

This song, for those who don’t know, is a song called “Smiles,” and it is taught to young children in the LDS Church. I sang it many, many times, a long time ago in what feels like a galaxy far, far away.  And now I have been singing it in my head pretty much every day for the last couple months.

To me “Smiles” illustrate, as 3 playwright Eric Samuelsen stated so well in his blog posting last week, how “Mormonism can be obsessed with public relations, with how things seem, with appearances.” It also helps explain how members of this church are sometimes guided towards a path of hyper perfectionism at a very young age, especially the women.

And I think it does partially come from church doctrine and many times from women themselves who apply a lot of pressure on each other.

I found an amazing transcript of a KSL-TV one-hour documentary that was published by Sunstone Magazine. It’s called Mormon Women and Depression: Are Latter-day Saint Women Becoming Causalities of Perfectionism? It’s amazing because the documentary aired in 1979 and it’s fairly brutally honest about what many women face.  And it’s just . . . wow. Barbara Smith, then President of the LDS church Relief Society participates.  I highly recommend reading it.  It reads like so many blogs I’ve been reading as recently as this month in The New York Times, The Salt Lake Tribune and the Standard-Examiner.

Here’s a good quote from the transcript that sums up 3 nicely: “Some of them feel they have to reach this kind of idealized, crystallized, beautiful Mormon women, which I term Mother-of-Zion syndrome.  This is a woman who is really a myth, a mystique.  She doesn’t exist at all, in fact.  But all Mormon women in almost any ward you wanted to go into would tell you they know a woman who is like that: She’s got it all together; her children are well-groomed; she bakes bread every day; she has wonderfully clean things in the house; her husband is happy and whistles off to work; she never complains at any of the church meetings he goes to; she’s supportive and loyal; and not only that: she gets up and reads her scriptures at six in the morning.  She’s got it all together.  And that’s a very intimidating thing for the average Mormon woman.” – Dr. R. Jan Stout, a Salt Lake psychiatrist, a Mormon. Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Utah College of Medicine and former president of the Utah Psychiatric Association.

The experiences of the women in this play are based on real experiences – these aren’t hypothetical stories.  These things actually happen, and through all the humor there are several moments in the play that are heartbreaking.

I admire Eric Samuelsen for calling out the prevalent culture here in Utah on something that has been going on for a long, long time.  And yes, things like this happen in other cultures too, and not just religious cultures. Women all over the world are experiencing a double whammy of impossible expectations.

I just want to know why it’s so hard to respect everyone’s choice to find happiness in their own way.

Eric Samuelsen’s 3 receives its world premiere as part of Plan-B’s #SeasonOfEric March 27-April in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.  Featuring Stephanie Howell, Teresa Sanderson and Christy Summerhays, directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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