Religious leaders have long told us that God is good, God is love . . . and, more often than not, God is a he .
Carol Lynn Pearson smiles at the first two, but not the last one. She doesn't appreciate that from Sunday school on, God has been historically imagined a deity majestic in his maleness.
It's the incompleteness that bothers Pearson, who describes herself as a devout Mormon. Pearson's frustration led to "Mother Wove the Morning," her one-woman, multi-character play receiving its Orange County premiere tonight at the Curtis Theatre.
"There are serious holes in our religious experience," the Walnut Creek actress, writer and poet said in a telephone interview from Hollywood's Ivar Theatre, where she's also presenting the drama. (Ironically, before the Ivar was renovated recently for legitimate theater, for years the only shows there ran every 20 minutes and featured nude female dancers.)
"What I had to find for myself was the missing female element in the deity," Pearson said. "My attempt is not to turn the tables, not to look at God as only female and throw away the maleness. The reasonable goal is to find both."
In "Mother," Pearson embodies several real and composite women through the ages. The biblical figure Ruth finds the spotlight, as does 19th-Century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Emma Smith, wife of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. More generalized characters include a Jew, a Nazi, a Native American, a medieval witch and a modern therapist.
As the play progresses, Pearson reaches into an antique trunk for props. On a nearly bare stage, each woman tells her story--which describe both mental and physical abuse from domination to rape--and how a male-oriented Almighty fits into the picture. It's all intended to, as Pearson puts it, "reclaim the female face of God."
Men are responsible for most of this injustice ("society suffers from testosterone poisoning," she said, attributing the quote to actor Alan Alda), but she claims "Mother" is not just another feminist rant against males.
"I have only found a few [men] that have thought so" about the show, she said. "The territory I travel is historical, [and] there has been a lot of brutality for everybody, but women have had a double dose of it.
"I've gone out of my way to make reference to all the helpful supportive men in each scene, but to be accurate [you can't always] make it look good for men."
Some critics have blasted "Mother" since it first premiered in 1989 in Walnut Creek near San Francisco.
A San Francisco Examiner critic wrote in 1991 that "the didactic show she shapes is less a dramatic evening than a kind of alternative Sunday school class. . . . I can't help feeling that Pearson is vehemently arguing a good case that happens not to be the one that matters today. Maybe we should learn to stop thinking of the deity as a parent of either sex. Maybe then we'd all have an easier time growing up."
On the other hand, a reviewer for the San Jose Mercury News was enthusiastic, describing the play as "spellbinding . . . a little gallery of guerrilla feminism, infused with humor, irony, anger, grief and pride."
Although she's taken "Mother" across the country and to Dublin, Ireland, Pearson may be best known in America for her autobiographical book, "Good-bye, I Love You," published by Random House. In "Goodbye," Pearson, who is 55 and has four children, described the last years with her husband, Gerald, who died of complications from AIDS in 1984.
The Pearsons had been married for 12 years when Gerald realized he was a homosexual. After becoming ill, Pearson cared for Gerald until his death. She's appeared on several talk shows to recount the experience, which also had impact on her writing "Mother."
"Seemingly God, certainly my church and now my husband preferred men," she recalled, adding that writing and performing the play helped her handle the pain that came from that realization. Pearson hopes "Mother" is cathartic for other women as well.
"If women have never really thought about these things," she said, "this can be startling, thrilling, [make them] angry and everything, all at the same time."
* Carol Lynn Pearson's "Mother Wove the Morning" plays tonight at the Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Drive, Brea. 8 p.m. Also June 15 and 22. (714) 990-7722. The show also plays the Ivar Theatre, 1605 Ivar Ave., Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through June 24. (213) 464-3667. Tickets at both locations are $14 (students and seniors) and $17 (general).