LA Daily News Dead Boy ReviewFine ensemble elevates cluttered church drama

LA Daily News

By Julio Martinez, Correspondent

A decade ago, the Catholic Church was rocked by the Covenant House scandal. A nationally renowned priest who had established the New York-based refuge for homeless youth was accused of sexually molesting a teen-age boy in his charge.

The Laurelgrove Theatre Company is presenting the U.S. premiere of playwright Joe Pintauro’s flawed but still powerful look at one priest’s fall from grace. Loosely based on the Covenant incident, Pintauro has created a murky battle of emotions between charismatic but troubled Father Sheridan (Emmy-nominated “General Hospital” star Stephen Nichols) and revenge-driven investigative reporter Tony McGuire (Cyril O’Reilly) that is overburdened with agenda and not enough clarity of purpose.

Using a narrator, Father Rosetti (Lorry Goldman), who speaks directly to the audience and then segues into his persona as rectory aide to the cardinal (Travis Michael Holder), Pintauro launches right into the dilemma facing the archdiocese. McGuire, an embittered former divinity student-turned-reporter, has evidence that Father Sheridan molested teen-age street hustler Will Draper (Derek Sitter) while Draper was ostensibly being rehabilitated under the care of Covenant House. McGuire’s newspaper has paid $500 for his exclusive story.

Draper, who appears to be playing both sides, “confesses” to the cardinal that he made up the story. The cardinal pays him $500 to recant the allegations. Meanwhile, booze-swelling Sheridan is suffering emotional stress caused by the unrelenting scrutiny of the church and the media as well as his recurring visions of a saintly young priest (also played by Sitter), who appears to be the embodiment of Sheridan’s own pure religious idealism.

The playwright bombards the proceedings with cumbersome back stories concerning the early history of McGuire’s relationship with the church and Sheridan, and Sheridan’s recollections of his own abused childhood. Director Jack Heller moves the action along with his well-paced scenic transitions but does not manage to find a way to lighten or balance the ponderousness of Pintauro’s text.

What works are the performances of this excellent five-member ensemble. Both Nichols and O’Reilly exude the personas of idealistic, worthy men who have allowed their emotional wounds to hinder their ability to deal with their current lives. Holder is wonderfully droll and understated as the morally outraged but always practical cardinal. Goldman’s Rosetti segues perfectly between his mildly sarcastic attentions to the cardinal and his deep concern for Sheridan.

Sitter radiates a powerful energy as the ravenously amoral Draper and is equally at home in the persona of Sheridan’s saintly vision of the young priest.