Confessional memoirs peaked a few years back as a publishing trend without anyone making very much of solo theater pieces being an adjunct development. Now, though memoirs are appearing in book form less frequently, confessional stage monologues are still rife. That may be for economic reasons more relevant to theater than publishing: While the costs of books depend less on subject matter than length and trim size, a one-person show remains significantly cheaper to mount than a play that requires several actors. Furthermore, performers continue to see the benefits of writing pieces for themselves.
Martin Moran's The Tricky Part is one of the most cost-effective of the recent crop of such shows, needing only a curved corkboard wall as backdrop, a white stool, a table with a framed photograph and a notebook on it. Most of these are supplied by set designer Paul Steinberg, while Moran supplies the notebook; it's his and it's copiously filled in. Heather Carson is credited with designing the lights, which are lowered to campfire wattage for an important segment of Moran's talk but are otherwise rather steadily bright. There is no sound designer nor costume designer acknowledged; Moran wears a serviceable open-necked shirt and jeans. His memoir is definitely confessional, so much so that it might have been delivered from an actual confessional. A practicing Catholic, or so it seems, Moran has written a monologue in which he expresses contrition for a sin (as the Church might see it) not of his committing. When he gets to the crux of his avowal, it's as if he's expiating his innocence, and these moments are extremely moving for both the actor and the audience.
The subject of the piece is child molestation; Moran may have felt that it's time someone with first-hand experience came forth to put a face to the headlines about Catholic children being abused by priests and others of their elders. To that end, he has been compelled to recount his tainted relationship with a man he calls Bob Kominsky and whom he describes as "an almost seminarian"; indeed, he apparently feels the need to tell this difficult story eight times a week for the foreseeable future. Moran reports his relationship with Kominsky -- which began when he was 12 and looked as he did in the on-stage photograph that he holds up for everyone to see -- in details graphic enough to suggest that instead of The Tricky Part, he might have called his show The Sticky Part.
He begins agreeably enough by bounding out on stage even before the lights have dimmed. Moran welcomes the audience with a few ad-libbed remarks, even quizzes individual audience members on the names of the churches to which they belonged when growing up and the Catholic schools they attended. (He mentions he was at Christ the King in Virginia Vale, just outside Denver.) He carries on in this conversational way long enough that you start thinking the fellow certainly knows how to deliver an underslung joke even while you're wondering what's he getting at. Moran runs the risk of seeming just another out-of-work thespian in need of a tide-me-over presentation, one who has decided that anecdotes of his Catholic upbringing might provide pleasant enough diversion for a few profitable bookings.
In no hurry to get to his point, perhaps because he needs to ease into something so glaringly painful, Moran practically backs into the Kominsky sequence. When he does so, he sufficiently raises the stakes on his enterprise. His seduction by the older and imposing Kominsky during a camping trip amounts to harrowing, infuriating defilement. As Moran recounts the episode, he implicitly explains why he's bothering with the story, demonstrating more with unspoken emotion than with words that he can't stop himself from telling it. Also implied is his having appointed himself as a revelatory ambassador for the thousands like him who were abused during childhood by men unable to stop themselves. He's a spokesman for all of the damaged men who could never bring themselves to endure the discomfort necessary to expose their sad, achingly tenacious pasts.
That, of course, is the tricky part, as Moran posits it. But when he talks about his reunion with an older and ill Kominsky in a Los Angeles convalescent home, he gets into something even trickier. It's a development also suggested by Paula Vogel in How I Learned to Drive, wherein the abused central figure refuses to view the traumatic events of her youth as black and white. In the confrontation that takes place some time after Kominsky has been imprisoned for his offenses against other boys, Moran discovers that -- despite having admitted that he had become both sexually compulsive and suicidal because of his abuse -- he can't condemn the perpetrator outright. "Bob," he remembers remarking, "whatever else there might have been, there was kindness, too. You were kind and I don't hate you." Also, Moran poignantly wonders, "Is it possible that what harms us might come to restore us?" It's difficult to describe how touching that reverberating question is when he utters it.
The Tricky Part has been developed at a succession of theaters; this presentation is directed by Barrow Group artistic director Seth Barrish, who's done such fine sleight-of-hand work that Moran appears not to have been directed at all. There are a couple of ruminative moments just before the end of the piece that seem calculated, but these are as nothing against the contribution that Moran and Barrish make toward comprehending the incomprehensible.
Confession is therapeutic, which is one of the reasons why psychoanalysis is called "the talking cure." Martin Moran realizes that, while his compulsive outpouring is self-help, it's also invaluable therapy for the observer.