"Hidden priests, secret pasts: Church silent about where it houses credibly accused clerics," read the headline on the front page of Sunday's Star-Ledger. A similar article, headlined "Priest who admitted groping boy appointed to high-profile position in Newark Archdiocese," ran in the same paper back in February 2013. Both stories focused on the perpetrators, not the victims.
But Martin Moran's umbrella play, A Map of the World, does, in two 80-minute plays (The Tricky Part and All the Rage) now being produced in repertory at the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank as a theatrical event to be seen together in a single day or independently from each other, in any order. Moran's award-winning solo performance makes the abuse all too real, without being salacious, poignant without being hopeless.
Moran accomplishes this feat mostly by his delivery. Yes, he has written a script, but he "recites" it as though he were having a conversation with a friend. In The Tricky Part, the stage is completely bare, except for a stool and a small table upon which sits a photograph of a 12-year-old boy, standing on a dock, dressed in a life jacket, holding an oar aloft over his head. The life jacket might have saved him from drowning in the lake, but it was of no use in his twisted relationship with camp counselor Bob Kaminsky, whom he encounters after 30 years.
At first, Moran disarms us with accounts of the idiosyncrasies exhibited by the nuns who taught him at Christ the King school. He regales us with his boyhood foibles there and the pride (yes, a sin) he has in his church and school. The "tricky part" of this education is being able to know God, even if he is in disguise, just as little Martin has difficulty discerning whether Bob Kaminsky is friend or foe. When Moran gets to that part of the story, he reads from his memoir; I wanted to cover my ears as he read, but was inexorably drawn to listen. As an adult, Moran had an opportunity to confront his abuser, the account of which is equally as engrossing and, ultimately, sad. By the end, I could barely breathe or move, so riveted to my seat was I. What such abuse does to a vulnerable, small child is heinous, scarring, an act of terrorism—something much more haunting than trying to figure out why men, often religious men, become sexual predators.
In the second play, All the Rage, Moran answers the paradoxical question he posed earlier: Can what harms us be the very thing that restores us? This time, the stage is decorated with a series of maps (of New York City, South Africa) and several screens upon which he projects slides and computer images. An established actor (he's appeared in Monty Python's Spamalot and Floyd Collins), Moran has a midlife meltdown and feels as though he has not done anything of significance with his life. In an attempt to answer a question he encountered as to why he wasn't angrier about what happened to him as a boy, Moran attempts to heal by helping others who have been damaged in some way. These include his estranged stepmother, his tortured younger brother, a tour guide who can't read a map and an African refugee seeking political asylum in the United States. In constant motion as he energetically bounds around the stage, Martin Moran takes us on his incredible journey to find grace. After all, if Nelson Mandela came out of prison and forgave those who imprisoned him, why shouldn't he? Leaving his 12-year-old self behind, Moran "rehearses consciousness" (his words) and seeks redemption.
The directorial hand of Seth Barrish is barely discernible, making the almost three hours feel like it has been spent with a friend revealing dark secrets, yet maintaining the tension so necessary to drama. The catharsis experienced by the audience parallels that attained by Moran as he recounts his story. Lighting designer Russell H. Champa, sound designer Leon Rothenberg and projection designer Bart Cortright are to be commended for enhancing the script. And don't let the simple scenic design fool you: the bare stage and props designed by Mark Wendland and Warren Karp ground this play in the theater, Moran's current "home." It is very simple, yet very effective.
Sexual molestation of a young boy by a trusted male adult is a monstrous crime, the reportage of which usually focuses on the predator instead of the victim. Such priests were often sent by the Catholic Church for "treatment" for their abnormal proclivities and then placed again in situations involving children. Only under threat of disclosure or court did the Church make financial settlements that would go toward psychological treatment for the victims. In The Map of the World, Martin Moran has laid his soul bare, but in a restrained way, making the crime all the more disturbing. At the same time, his attainment of grace gives hope to those who have been abused. Thank you, Martin Moran, for opening our eyes in such an artful way. This is the true power of theater.
NOTE: In the lobby, be sure to take a look at the picture of Moran on the dock. You will be floored by how young he looks.
A Map of the World will be performed in repertory at the Robert & Joan Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, through November 17. Patrons who purchase tickets to both The Tricky Part and All the Rage will receive a 20% discount. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $24 and include the best available seats at every performance.
For information about performances and the appearance of guest speakers at talkbacks following the performance, call the box office at 732.345.1400 or visit www.tworivertheater.org online.
To learn more, watch a video: A Map of the Soul: Inside the Rehearsal Room with Martin Moran
Please note: both plays include adult themes and sexual content.
All photos of Martin Moran in The Tricky Part by T. Charles Erickson