Amy M. Frateo, reviewer
Michael Mack is very brave. He is also very talented. He is also very brave… was that mentioned?
On stage at The Bridge Theatre, Mack stands alone in a black shirt and pants – like a relaxing priest – and tells a story that is compelling, shocking, painful and hopeful all at the same time. The story is CONVERSATIONS WITH MY MOLESTER and it relates to his awful experience as an 11 year old boy lured into the rectory of a pedophile priest. Yes, just the description alone tightens the shoulders.
This powerful drama, touching on a topic that dares not say its name was part of last year’s Midtown international theatre Festival then ran abroad and now settles here for a limited off-Broadway run. With Pope Francis in town, liberals will stand tall with this piece; conservatives fear its arrival.
Now here’s the twist … it is also beautifully executed. Mack is a true poet, creating soaring and stunning imagery for hellish circumstances. His brilliant use of words transforms trauma into opera; his use of metaphor and description makes you forget the topic – until it reminds you of it – hard. Mack is able to take us on an emotional roller coaster – even a really tepid rendition of Heart & Soul on a rickety piano becomes heartbreaking in context.
Daniel Gidron staged this piece well, cleverly keeping Mack moving throughout to always illicit a high energy – almost production number – feel. This helped in slower parts and heavy exposition toward the later half. Gidron and Mack managed to find moments where just the right delivery created laughter – sometimes nervous and even the rare belly laugh. It’s rare that you forget you’re in a theatre and actually feel that you are “in” the play. With CONVERSATIONS, you feel as if you are there with Michael in the dark rectory feeling his fear … and his pain.
Now here’s the last twist… what you also feel is hope. Mack does not play this drama with anger or vengeance. He provides a smile of understanding – even forgiveness – on his face throughout. This allows us to listen and react and interact (talkbacks are scheduled after each showing).
Pope Francis’ stance on this matter is encouraging, but that doesn’t negate what these children went through or the lesson to be learned. Mack shows us a dark time and how he climbed up from it. He tells us why he was in pain and teaches us how to forgive. Isn’t that what the REAL message of faith?