Written and performed by Michael Mack
Directed by Daniel Gidron
After years of coverups and innuendo, the Catholic church appears to finally be ready to take responsibility for the atrocious history of sex crimes perpetrated by priests. Pope Francis’s public statements and historic meeting with survivors of abuse helped to open a much-needed dialogue on this crucial issue. For real healing to take place though, the victims’ stories need to be heard. Speaking from personal experience, writer-performer Michael Mack has crafted a searing, painful, but ultimately hopeful account of his childhood trauma and decades-long quest for closure.
Shading his performance with subtle changes in body language and tone of voice, Mack begins his story with boyhood recollections of the splendor of church. Speaking with wide-eyed innocence, he remembers his earliest ambition: He wants to be a priest when he grows up. An eager pupil, Michael volunteers at the Sacred Heart church when his family moves to the small town of Brevard, North Carolina. On one occasion, he is alone in the church doing chores, when a much-beloved pastor walks in. Claiming to need help with costumes for an upcoming pageant, the preacher lures Michael into a secret room where the life-changing violation takes place. Like many victims, Michael obeys the adult perpetrator’s instructions to keep quiet. He is bewildered when the pastor suddenly disappears, and none of the grownups offer any explanation. It’s not until years later, that Michael puts two and two together. The rape itself is made doubly horrific by the callous secrecy exhibited by the church authorities. Thankfully, Michael’s shame and anger do not lead him to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. When the opportunity arises, he resists the temptation to take advantage of a child (although he suffers tremendous guilt for even considering it). In time, he finds a healthy outlet for his emotions. He embarks on a search for the man who owes him answers. Though the conversation doesn’t happen quite the way he imagined, the truths he unearths along the way enable him to finally come to grips with the unthinkable and to emerge with a sense of his own identity and his own role in shaping the future of the Church.
As in the Gospel of John, the truth is what finally sets Michael free. And as the audience bears witness to his confession, the burden tangibly lifts from his shoulders. Both in performance and content, CONVERSATIONS WITH MY MOLESTER is remarkably free of self-pity and soapboxing, preferring instead to tell the story as it happened and let the audience feel the impact. Much of the narrative, of course, is hard to listen to, but Mack’s descriptions of the events are neither sanitized nor gratuitously graphic. Under Daniel Gidron’s direction, Mack displays a disarming vulnerability and likability that make the show theatrically powerful as well as socially relevant. Peter C. Lewis’s fluid lighting effects help underscore the show’s many transitions in time, place and mood.
CONVERSATIONS WITH MY MOLESTER continues through October 11 at The Bridge Theatre, Columbus Circle, NYC, 244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor (between Broadway and 8th Avenue) New York, NY 10019. Tickets and additional information: http://www.michaelmacklive.com