Review by Ramona Pula
“Conversations With My Molester”
Written and performed by Michael Mack
Directed by Daniel Gidron
Technical Direction and Stage Management by Peter Lewis
The Bridge Theatre, 244 W. 54th Street
(between Broadway and 8th Avenue), 12th Floor
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
Remaining show dates/times:
Sat 10/3 at 8pm; Sun 10/4 at 3pm
Thurs 10/8 at 8pm; Fri 10/9 at 8pm; Sat 10/10 at 8pm; Sun 10/11 at 3pm
Get tickets here http://conversationsplay.brownpapertickets.com/
I’m going to get straight to the point, since time is running out. SEE THIS PRODUCTION. It will be well worth your time and is worth every penny of the admission price.
“Conversations With My Molester” is an absorbing, moving story of not only the abuse of an innocent child, but also of his healing, and of redemption. It’s expertly directed by Daniel Gidron and masterfully performed by consummate artist and poet Michael Mack. The lighting design is terrific, and technically everything works flawlessly.
As my friend Onyi and I entered the space, Gregorian chants played over the sound system, setting the tone so effectively that she and I whispered to each other as we talked before the show. Suddenly I realized, and said, “I feel like I’m in Church.” And Onyi agreed. We laughed because neither of us had ever been so quiet while chatting before a show.
The set is simple and effective, including a piano stage right and a greenboard center stage with “HEART & SOUL” written on it in chalk. Each section of the play is written out on this board, including (but not limited to) “ONE QUESTION” and near the end of the show “PORTRAIT OF A BOY.” A small table with chair stage left and a leather briefcase under the table completes the scenery.
Michael Mack enters and starts out in a somewhat presentational, poetic style, proclaiming in a strong, resonant voice that before he started learning anything in school, he saw priests as superheroes and wanted to be one himself. Praying to him was “sweet breathing” and “A priest was the nearest I got to God’s proscenium stage.” Michael wanted to be center stage, “where the action is.”
He, of course, became an altar boy.
In speech and movement, the performer here struck me as ritualistic, like a… priest actually – and in a way, strangely disconnected. However, that was not to last. This show builds in a slow burn to a powder keg of emotion.
At age 10, Michael still wanted to be a priest, and also a fighter pilot. At this time, when their mother became ill with schizophrenia, he, his brother and sister moved from near Washington D.C. to North Carolina to live with their Aunt May. Their father would visit them from up north on alternate weekends so they could have Saturday supper together every two weeks.
Aunt May was an Episcopalian, while Michael and his siblings went to the Catholic Church in town, Sacred Heart. He became an altar boy there.
The priest at Sacred Heart, who is not named until later in the play (all names have been changed for the show), took Michael to his first baseball game and was generally kind to him. With his father living in D.C., this priest became like the boy’s second dad. When father and Father met, they shook hands. Trust was established, to be betrayed.
For the sake of brevity and to avoid spoilers I’ll refrain from summarizing any more of the story. Suffice it to say that this show is full of surprises and twists, poetry, discomfort, laughs, and a spectrum of emotion that encapsulates a particular human experience that is not restricted to the Catholic Church. As Pope Francis recently pointed out, and as most people in our society already know, children are also violated by relatives, teachers, and other adults entrusted with their care. It’s truly an epidemic that has existed probably for millennia that we are only now in our evolution as a species truly addressing in any real way.
“Conversations With My Molester” explores questions of self-blame, keeping secrets, obsession with talking to one’s abuser(s) in one’s own head, the confusion of some abuse victims in the cases when they feel a combination of attraction and revulsion to the memory of molestation, confrontation and forgiveness, and so much more.
To cover all this in 90 minutes in such a pithy and engrossing way is an artistic achievement of the highest order.
The question of free will is explored, when the choice between doing evil or walking away is presented. This particular segment of the show reminded me of the Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black” when Jagger sings:
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
Just because you think something, it doesn’t mean you’re compelled to do it. “Forgive yourself for what you never did.”
After most performances, Mack goes backstage to take a short break and then there is a “Talk Back” with him and any members of the audience who wish to stay, moderated by a leader in the healing professions.
The night I went, Norris Chumley, Ph.D, was the moderator. Many audience members chose to stay for the talk, and had their own stories to tell either about themselves or about people they knew and loved.
TANGENT ALERT: At a couple of points during the discussion, Mack said “raises the question” and I want to THANK him for that, since the misuse of the phrase “begs the question” is a pet peeve of mine. (Really, it drives me crazy.)
When an audience member expressed amazement at what Michael Mack has achieved not just personally but artistically, he responded, “Art is taking the materials of our lives and creating something with it.”