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Stratton Players eyes abuse in uncomfortable `Sin'.

Byline: James A. Karis II

COLUMN: THEATER REVIEW

"Sin, A Cardinal Deposed," staged through this weekend by the Stratton Players, deals with the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston that led to Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation.

It isn't an easy form of entertainment; the accounts range from sobering to mortifying. But it does prove to be an interesting study in the legal process that led to the downfall of a man once beloved, reduced to an archetype of negligence.

The play takes the form of a dramatic re-creation of Cardinal Law's 2002 deposition in Suffolk Superior Court, with the majority of the dialogue taking place between Law (Rich White) and Orson Krieger (Michael Tobin), the attorney representing the victims. It deals primarily with priests John Geoghan and Paul Shanley, and how Law simply moved them from one parish to another after they were repeatedly accused of molestation.

One of the main challenges for playwright Michael Murphy is to present the proceedings in an objective light, a difficult task given the severity of the crimes and the irresponsibility with which they were dealt. That said, Law comes across as sarcastic, standoffish, evasive and almost wholly unapologetic.

While he admits he made mistakes in the way he dealt with accused priests, he passes much of the responsibility off to his delegates, adding that he had no reason to question priests that had been appointed by his predecessors because he assumed they had been rightly appointed.

It is precisely this delegation of authority and operating under false assumptions that makes Law look most negligent. When pressed for specific answers, the Cardinal responds casually that he doesn't remember. Between the dialogue in the play, which was taken from the deposition itself, and Mr. White's performance, Law is portrayed as a man unwilling to accept any responsibility for not dealing with abusive priests swiftly and decisively. He admits to attempting to help the priests, but not the victims and their families. It is a portrait of a man who seems genuinely offended to even have his actions questioned.

While the play is generally effective in making its point, I wonder if it can actually help change the way the church deals with similar circumstances in the future. Hopefully the answer is yes. But I also question the suitability of child molestation for dramatic fodder. It's simply not something people associate with "going to the theater," which typically means "entertainment." If it can raise awareness and help educate the public, however, the playwright has done his job.

If you consider attending this play, bear in mind, you aren't in for a pleasant experience. It isn't intended to be. While the accounts are not particularly graphic, it isn't easy listening to descriptions of sexual abuse, however vague - especially when the events involve children. There are no winners in this situation, and in the case of the play, no happy endings.

`Sin, A Cardinal Deposed'

* *-1/2

Written by Michael Murphy, directed by Rick Woods, produced and stage managed by Pam Sontag, set construction by Bob Blake, set decoration by Victor Dupuis, lighting design by Brian Boyle. Performances Jan. 25 and 26 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. at the Stratton Playhouse, 60 Wallace Ave., Fitchburg.

With Rich White, Michael Tobin, Bob Blake, Matt Hager, Brigita Clementi, Victor Dupuis and Rick Woods.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: From left, Matt Hager, Michael Tobin, Rich White and Bob Blake star in "Sin (A Cardinal Deposed.)"
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 22, 2008
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