With Peculiar Portrayals, Mark T. Decker and Michael Austin have assembled a fine collection of scholarly essays analyzing recent novels, plays, television programs, and films depicting Mormons and Mormon culture. It is an outstanding group of original papers, and I recommend it very highly.
The collection begins with Cristine Hutchison-Jones's "Center and Periphery: Mormons and American Culture in Tony Kushner's Angels in America." Hutchison-Jones situates the play as an exploration of minority experience in America, describing how Kushner delights in showing Mormons in creative interaction with African-Americans, women, Jews, and homosexuals. Hutchison-Jones points out that Kushner's Mormons function as examples of a reactionary American conservatism against which the play's more sympathetic characters contend. She argues that it is not Mormonism per se that is the play's target; it is conservatism. As Hutchison-Jones concludes, "For Kushner, Mormons and Mormonism represent both the positive good of American creative energy and the dangerous stagnation of such creativity into conservative institutions." I found the essay insightful in its dissection of the play's political worldview, while wishing it focused with equal perception on the more transcendent, spiritual aspects of the play's essentially optimistic conclusion.