By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Thomas, we infer, has had some legal snafus involving children and playgrounds, but he also claims to have been molested as a boy by his parish priest. The doctor’s treatment consists of placing Thomas into deep memory regression by sounding clicks from a dance instructor’s tin cricket — a feat he applies with equal finesse to Thomas’ parents (Shareen Mitchell and Greg Mullavey) and the priest in question, Father Grant (Paul Lieber).
At this early point we sense something’s wrong with this picture. Even accepting the story’s whimsical time-shuttling and the doctor’s uncanny ability to put everyone he meets under the spell of hypnosis, we begin to wonder about the two altar boys sprinkling glitter from a catwalk above the stage. We grow even more suspicious of the penile lie detector Dr. Cunningham has lying around his office — and of Father Grant’s weary consent to strapping it on. (Bing Crosby’s Father O’Malley never would have agreed to such shenanigans in Going My Way.)
The play’s date also seems off — in 1974, allegations that the Church was tacitly protecting predatory behavior would have been considered a tabloid blood libel by Catholics; certainly the Church at that time, sticking to its few-bad-apples line, vigorously defended priests from such accusations with a time-tested regimen of denial, intimidation and bribery. Why would it, as is the case here, even feel the need to pay a shrink to investigate Father Grant? He, nevertheless, is a beguiling satyr in black, whether he is conning Dr. Cunningham, himself, or putting the moves on Thomas’ mother and father. Much of his charm comes from Lieber, the actor who so gleefully played the part of the ambitious Elia Kazan in Names. His Father Grant may not resemble any real priest we’ve known (the moody doubters, the fresh-faced seminarians or the gin-breathed confessors), but he glides across the smoldering wreckage of the Gordons’ lives like a mad fire dancer, and in this sense his hypnotic powers match Dr. Cunningham’s.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, under Kemble’s direction, is allowed to indulge in various levels of overacting; this may almost be necessary to avoid letting the play become a documentary-of-the-week lesson in pedophiliac priests, but it does little to alleviate the dull ache that this evening, with its schematic presentation of perpetrators and victims, soon becomes. Kemble’s trouble is that he wants to write something more than a documentary but will not force himself to describe anything bigger than a narrow truth — forgetting that there’s a line between disclosure and discovery, and that somewhere between the two lies art.
SELF DEFENSE or, Death of Some Salesmen| BY CARSON KREITZER | At ACTORS GANG THEATER | 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood | Through March 7 | (323) 465-0566, Ext. 15
A COMFORTABLE TRUTH| By MARK KEMBLE | At the LEE STRASBERG CREATIVE CENTER | 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., WestHollywood | Through February 22 | (323) 650-7777