After 20 minutes of flabby jokes about Catholic school, actor Martin Moran finally gets to the heart of "The Tricky Part," his autobiographical monologue about sexuality and reconciliation.
Shrouded in dim light and crouched over what appears to be an actual journal, he reads an account of his sexual awakening. That the awakening was disturbing -- Moran was 12 at the time while his partner was a 30-year-old man -- becomes important only later in the monologue, when Moran recounts a confrontation with the older man at a Veterans hospital.
For the moment, though, you care only about Moran's words. Wrapped in a sleeping bag with his partner, he is reminded of a classroom diagram of the Earth's molten center:
"It was the liquid core I was thinking of, the orange ball of fire hidden under a million layers because it's too dangerous. The secret urge buried at the center of everything, the force that pushes up the trees and the mountains, too.
"'How did I slip here so fast?' I wondered. To the secret at the center of bodies. To the center of him."
Moran, who has appeared in Broadway productions of "Titanic," "Cabaret" and "Bells Are Ringing," has an affable presence. And one of his greatest assets is 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.
What he remembers -- shockingly -- is a mix of pleasure and pain. He never calls the man who molested him a pedophile, and during their reunion some 30 years later, he feels odd moments of tenderness.
But there is plenty of anger, too. He cites the episode as the root of several boyhood suicide attempts and of his unquenchable sexual appetite as a young, gay man. "You know, Bob, I almost didn't make it," he tells his ailing abuser.
All in all, it's a brutally ambiguous account of the kind of event that is usually depicted as an unqualified nightmare -- when it is talked about at all. The play's title refers to that very ambiguity; Moran speaks it once, when recounting how a childhood bully took his candy and then called him a saint.
"I didn't see how, with his mean eyes and snotty nose, Ricky's could be the face of God. But that's the tricky part," Moran says.
For all its emotional honesty, though, the piece could use an editor. The biggest problem is that jokey preamble, which lacks focus and isn't very funny. Who needs more cracks about stern nuns and Catholic guilt?
Fortunately, Moran has written a book that will be published next year about the same experiences he relates in the show. If the best moments of "The Tricky Part" are any indication, it will be a must-read.