Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
The stories are all so similar, and yet each is so unique, so shattering and personal. One of every 16 boys in this country will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen. For Martin Moran, the world changed forever when he was twelve, and met a camp counselor named Bob. An admired adult, a generous teacher, a comforting strength reaching out to a boy who was hungry for knowledge and guidance and affirmation. But what began as an episode of confusing and exhilarating sexual discovery became three years of balancing guilt and gratification, freedom tinged with fear and exploitation. That relationship also drew the outlines for a dark journey through a tangled landscape that would shape and distort Moranís life for years to come, maybe to this day. Bob was ultimately sent to prison for a separate offense against another young boy, but when Martin Moran sought him out, decades later, he found a pathetic and broken man, simpering his compromised apology and still pleading for understanding that this was ěa special relationship with a special boyî.
Mr. Moran survived the abuse and its awful aftermath of doubt and self-loathing to become a successful actor, a partner in a stable, long-term gay relationship, and a writer and performer of enormous grace and eloquence. ěThe Tricky Partî is his extended monologue on what happened to him as a boy, what it means as a Catholic to undergo that kind of moral disfigurement, the recognition of the many positive gifts hidden within a horrendous experience, and in the fact of this performance, how sharing the reality of sexual trauma can be liberating and profoundly humanizing. Nearly a third of the victims of sexual abuse never reveal their abuse, but for those of us who do, in one forum or another, there can be a forgiveness and release beyond understanding.
Part of the success of this marvelous show is the simple result of Mr. Moran being a man of the theatre. He knows how to hold a stage with simple presence, and he knows that in order for this show to work he needs to make himself accessible and un-theatrical, which he does with the invisible expertise of a complete pro. His gentle, unaffected manner and quick, self-effacing wit put us at ease, and immediately assure us that this is not going to be another tell-all confessional or dirge of disclosure. Much of the early part of his monologue is focused on being a young boy and the experience of Catholic school. Itís keenly observed and filled with distinctive and effective characters. While itís amusing and quite funny in and of itself, it also sets up an ethical universe and sense of immortal judgement against which his sexuality, and itís inappropriate expression, will be all the more intolerable and conflicted. The pain that led to his ending the relationship with Bob at the age of fifteen also accounted for his habit of gathering little pink and white pills, and they would be his new companion when, also at fifteen, he first attempted suicide. The understatement of that hopeless, silent moment is filled with implied despair and un-amplified drama.
The stagecraft here speaks perfectly to the content. There is a stool, on which Mr. Moran perches comfortably. A small table to his left displays an old photograph, Martin at age 12, standing in a canoe with a paddle overhead and a life-preserver wrapped around his little-boy body. Bob took the picture. Martin interprets it, in the same way that one might stare at a photo of ancestors and wonder what their lives, what their worlds were really like. The brief time we spend traveling with him on this long journey is all about uniting the boy in the picture with the man on the stool. There are particular segments that seemed especially powerful to me. The story of his first sexual encounter with Bob, in the loft of a summer-camp cabin, a boyhood friend sound asleep nearby, the whole experience an almost hallucinogenic convergence of sensuality and sin, empowerment and helplessness, confusion and self-awareness, innocence and unspeakable guilt. The writing is exquisite and the dramatic presentation impeccable. At the end of a silence that follows, the world is forever changed. I also thought the reunion with Bob was beautifully constructed, and avoided easy blame or trite magnanimity.
Certainly this show will unsettle and distress many people. The manipulation and injury of children, sexually and emotionally, is inherently repellent. Others may find it too kind in its treatment of Bob, or too eager to skip past the suggestion that Moranís sexual life went through periods of desperation and excess prior to his stable relationship. The utter directness of a man simply speaking his own life-story may not seem theatrical enough to some, or may seem too self-indulgent for others. But the majority of the audience on the night that I saw it was as fixed in its attention, as enrapt in the discovery and gradual revelation of meaning and event as I was.
Of course, everything in this taut, engrossing story begs for further elaboration, a simple desire to know this man and his experience even more completely. But this is not about a whole life. It is about a single experience within a life, albeit the sort of experience that forever directs and defines the man he becomes. Was everything in Martin Moranís life the result of these three years of abuse? Of course not. Of course. Was it all horror without respite, well-meaning but improper intimacy, injury without conciliation? Are predators and victims always diametrically opposed, and with nothing in common, no shadings of responsibility? Is there any possibility of a kind of love existing, in any manifestation, within a relationship that is exploitative and immoral? In what way is his experience representative of others, and to what extent is it only his? The answers to those questions are far from simple. That is the tricky part.
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