Playwright/Star gets The Tricky Part Right at Intiman
Has there ever been a more successful handling of sensitive, risky subject matter than playwright/actor Martin Moran's deft, disarming and deeply felt solo show The Tricky Part? Not in this playgoer's experience. The Obie Award-winning play, which arrived at Intiman Theatre last Wednesday is directed feelingly, yet with a certain light touch by Seth Barrish. His job must have been made all the easier working with Moran, a born storyteller - even when the story is his own, and an emotional one, which few would be able to tell on the stage or the page with such clarity and welcome, if surprising, lack of self pity.
Moran starts the show off casually, thanking his Seattle audience for coming inside on (what has been, so far) a rare, sunny Summer's day, reminding us to turn off electronic devices, and so on. This segues into an engaging Q&A where he finds that, like himself, a great many audience members (probably a third or more) grew up Catholic and attending Catholic schools. One needn't be Catholic to guffaw over the names of the parochial schools, and the saints who are depicted like "creep movie stars," and the nun/teacher of cursive writing who one day in class freezes while writing on the chalkboard, and is dispatched from the class never to be seen again. Moran may have grown up Catholic in Denver, and I a lax Methodist in Hawaii, but we were both in grade school in the '60s, and I think those in a mid-40s early-50s age range will especially identify with being an American kid in that era.
A good many, sadly too many, who see The Tricky Part will identify with its dark side, in which 12-year-old Martin (then Marty) is seduced by an older man, Bob, whom he first met at a Catholic boys camp. Moran's description of Bob's initial seduction is both squirm-inducing and heartbreaking. The fact that Bob has done so much to build the sensitive Marty up as a prelude to this act is quite riveting and upsetting. And even more so, Marty's homecoming afterwards, vividly depicted with memories of what his family was watching on TV ( The Wonderful World of Disney and Mission Impossible), and doing his best to avoid their possible realization that something has gone very wrong with him.
The relationship ended after two years, and ultimately its effect on Moran challenged his faith, ended his childhood, and haunted him for many tears. Moran, openly gay and in a long-term relationship, makes it clear that Bob's abuse did not make him a homosexual. But it did trigger suicide attempts, depression and other dysfunctional behavior that Moran might well have been spared. In recent years, Moran met Bob again as a withered, tormented old man in a VA hospital, and he was able to confront his abuser, hold him accountable for his heinous acts, and even forgive him to a certain extent. How many of us wish we had the chance to revisit a nightmare from our past, and, in confronting it, help better our present and future?
Some may wonder why Moran would relive his experiences night after night on a stage, after chronicling, more in depth, the same events in his recently published autobiography, The Tricky Part: One Boy's Fall from Trespass into Grace. Perhaps he is in need of ongoing catharsis. More likely it is to share the reclamation of his life, post-confrontation with Bob. Regardless of his reasons, Moran, who I have enjoyed in several Broadway musicals (notably as the radioman in Titanic), tells an important, difficult story without self-pity, with rich good humor and a warm heart. It is a show not to be missed. The Seattle sunshine comes our way much more frequently than a story and an artist of this stature.The Tricky Part runs Tuesdays-Sundays through Aug. 13 at Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center. $10-$46. www.intiman.org or 206-269-1900.