Squirming through a recent performance of "The Raid" at the University of Utah, I resisted the overwhelming urge to storm the stage and strangle the gentleman portraying George Q. Cannon.
It was a difficult exercise in self-control."The Raid" is allegedly a depiction of the Mormon plural-marriage trials - specifically that of George Q., who served as an LDS apostle and counselor to four church presidents - that occurred here in the late 1800s. It was written by Paul Larsen and originally produced in 1996 as The Lawyers Centennial Event, sponsored by the Utah State Bar, Utah Attorney General's Office and the University of Utah Department of Fine Arts.
This year, it was produced by the U.'s Theater and Film Department and Stone House Productions.
It includes some delightful dialogue and provides a relatively even-handed look at challenges unique to the era from LDS and "gentile" perspectives. It also admits to being a composite portrayal - which is the rub.
Composite characters deserve fictitious names.
Claims to historical accuracy in "The Raid" quickly waned the moment "George Q. Cannon" walked on stage - tall, slender, brooding, small nose, uncertain and with a full head of hair.
My wife's eyes met mine and she winked: "It's just a play," she whispered.
"But that ain't him . . . not even close," I retorted, blood pressure rising and feeling like a betrayed victim of bait and switch. "It's not his demeanor - let alone his hair style."
And it wasn't. Even the author's note in the program admitted it.
"The characters in the play are historical in one sense and fictional in another. . . . Therefore, I have drawn from journals, speeches and histories to create characters that are composites of many others who lived through this period.
"George Q. Cannon's despair in the play is more representative of a general desperation felt by many Mormons over the dismantling of their religion, than of any emotional experience recorded by the man himself."
That's the point. Please don't call the play's principal character George Q. Cannon and make him out to be some sniveling, faithless fellow called a grump by his first wife and saying things like, "Do it, man!" to a zealot intent on seeking revenge upon a persecutor - an instruction quickly retracted but one he likely would not have uttered based upon his recorded treatment of enemies.
"Do it, man!" I don't think so. That didn't come along until Nike.
He also exclaimed at one point in the play, "I don't know who we are." Very inaccurate. He always expressed an assurance of who he was and of how that knowledge intertwined with his convictions. Indeed, his sense of self grew out of his convictions.
His character in the play - cursing God in spots, fretting, insensitive, unhappy - was the antithesis of reality. Historical accounts depict him as serene, pleasant, personable, confident, thoughtful and full of faith. Charles Dickens, in "The Uncommercial Traveler," described Cannon as being compact in stature and having clear, bright eyes; a frank, open manner; and an unshrinking look.
Thrust into the heart of the national firestorm surrounding the religious practice of plural marriage as a territorial delegate, he had a voice but no vote in the House of Representatives. When appearing Dec. 1, 1873, for his swearing in, he acknowledged in his writings that he was "without a man who is in sympathy with me," but that he had a "Friend more powerful than they all."
As Cannon appeared before the House, a strong move to prevent him from being seated had been organized by his defeated opponent, George Maxwell. A representative from Ohio described what happened next: "Mr. Cannon walked up to be sworn with the rest of the delegates, when a fool from the other side jumped up and objected, and afterwards offered a resolution. Mr. Cannon walked out coolly to one side and stood there, and I was struck with admiration at the manner in which he went through the scene; he showed such pluck and betrayed so little agitation. He looked as though he didn't care a damn whether they swore him in our not. I told our fellows we must stand up to that man (Maxwell), and we did." The motion to seat him was carried with only one negative vote.
Cannon at that instance and others was strong in his convictions, even deemed stubborn as a boy by his own mother. But like many others of his ilk and era he acknowledged a higher source of his strength amid adversity: "I know of no feeling that can fill the human breast with such unspeakable happiness, joy and confidence as faith in God. If God be with us, who can be against us?"
Such was his demeanor throughout the plural-marriage trials and other hardships, in contradiction to the mopey, insecure George Q. Cannon character por-trayed in "The Raid." If the woeful fellow in the play is meant to be representative of the despair of the era, a legitimate name should not be attached for marquee value. Geoff Hansen's acting was fine, but he was playing the wrong man.
There's really no problem with the production if the despairing lead is Brother Moody, Lorenzo Cannon Kimball, George Clawson Young, William Wood Whitney, Wallace Wasatch, G.S. Lake, Daniel Deseret, Samuel Pratt Smith, Bill Bennion Benson, Orson Scott Card (scratch that) or any of other myriad possible composite names.
But not George Q. Cannon, unless it's really him. Truth in advertising mandates it. And while a class-action defamation lawsuit by descendants would be difficult to win since Ron Yengich plays a role in the production as an anti-Mormon witness (a part he plays very well), it's tempting to try.
After all, undying optimism runs in the family.