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New York's critics embrace 'Tricky Part': Moran rides a wave of one-person hits

By John Moore
April 18, 2004

NEW YORK - Telling the story of his continuing recovery from sexual abuse as a Denver teenager in The Denver Post last month has brought Martin Moran overwhelming emotional support, devastating testimonials from other sexual- abuse victims, a surprise celebrity endorsement, wider-than-expected exposure from the New York media and even a new financial investor on his play, "The Tricky Part."

"But most of all," Moran said, "it has brought a lot of joy."

"The reverberations from that article continue," Moran said of the many letters, phone calls and "deep and amazing conversations" that have been generated. One of the most surprising came from Eve Ensler, creator of "The Vagina Monologues," who saw a preview performance and has been championing the work since.

"What a miraculous mystery this life of ours is," Moran said. "I truly believe that God is stage-managing this whole thing."

The focus of Moran's story has shifted to the play itself, which opened at an off-Broadway theater on Monday to overwhelming critical praise.

Moran had feared his play might get lost in what has become the hottest trend of the New York theater season - the one-person play, most notably "I Am My Own Wife," which won the Pulitzer Prize two weeks ago.

Chief New York Times critic Ben Brantley, making a rare visit to an off-Broadway theater, called Moran's memoir "translucent" and "shattering."

"Mr. Moran offers a remarkably coherent yet complicated first- hand perspective," wrote Brantley, whose subsequent descriptions included exact, urgent, crystalline and "rich in organic metaphors."

Justin Glanville of The Associated Press called Moran's greatest asset his lack of self-pity. "Unlike other stars of one-person shows, he keeps recriminations and appeals for sympathy to a minimum. He merely tells his story as he remembers it," said Glanville, who predicted Moran's book, which will be published next year, will be a "must-read."

David Finkle of praised Moran's contribution toward comprehending the incomprehensible. "It's also invaluable therapy for the observer," he wrote.

At a talk-back following a recent performance, Moran's audience reacted almost in the rhythm of a breath: He was at first confronted with hostile questions about his lack of anger, why he never told anyone of his three years of abuse, his use of the word "love" in describing the relationship, and why he felt compelled two years ago to make contact with his abuser.

As to the anger issue, Moran said the Post article forced him to confront certain truths about his abuser that he never even knew before. "I have experienced more tears and anger in the past month than I have in the past 30 years," he told the crowd.

But the opening line of questioning brought spirited defenses and wrenching testimonials from other victims, ranging from a young woman to a man in his 80s who was abused as a boy at his Quaker school. Each said Moran's journey was consistent with theirs.

"It's an important piece, and I compliment you on how much your healing means to me," said one.

"The Tricky Part" must close at its Upper West Side location May 30, after which producer Jim Freydberg had hoped to bring the play to Denver. But if the strong critical reaction turns into widespread and immediate ticket sales, "The Tricky Part" won't leave the New York area anytime soon.

One-person shows abound

One-person shows are popular in New York in part because they are cheap to produce. But several have been singled out by critics as meaningful art as well, including:

"I Am My Own Wife": The story of a real-life German transvestite who survives the Nazis and then the Communist regime, performed by Jefferson Mays. At the Lyceum.

"Golda's Balcony": This show features Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir. At the Helen Hayes.

"Bridge & Tunnel": Sarah Jones plays 10 characters assimilating into America, including a Pakistani accountant, a Chinese mother and a young Latina. Produced by Meryl Streep. At 45 Bleecker, 45 Bleecker St.

"My Kitchen Wars": Dorothy Lyman portrays food writer Betty Fussell, who dishes out lessons learned in a 30-year marriage. At the 78th Street Theatre Lab.