The Dead Boy Critics PicReviewed by T.H. McCulloh

Many people firmly believe their spiritual advisors are divine, a direct link to the power above, the problem is that these advisors are all too human, like Father Sheridan in this Joe Pintauro play. For 16-year-old Will Draper, his mentor Father Sheridan was really divine, but in a completely the wrong way. Draper, a larcenous, treacherous, cunning misfit, loved Sheridan fiercely and coerced the hesitant tortured priest into returning that love. Several years later, as a young adult, Draper tells a reporter about the affair for a fee of $500.

The unveiling of this awkward situation is at the core of Pintauro’s intriguing and many-layered drama. Although based on an actual case, it is more than simply a chronicle of events. It has a great deal to say about obsession, fear, and varying forms of homophobia. And it provides five actors with rich, full-blooded, intricate and demanding roles. It also gives director Jack Heller a complicated human chess game to sort out, which he does beautifully, playing each level of development with unerring skill, an insightful sense of rhythm, and a clear vision of the playwright’s intent.

The performances ring with honesty and understanding.

As the tragic and eventually beaten Father Sheridan, Stephen Nichols toboggans easily between the loving priest who has helped many youngsters rise out of ghetto shame and adolescent despair, and a man with a sad secret he was foolish enough to share with the wrong person.

Or two wrong persons. Besides Will, Sheridan had written an indiscreet letter to a weak young seminarian, Tony McGuire, who is now the reporter who pays Will for his information. Cyril O’Reilly has just the right sleazy operative undercurrent for McGuire’s machinations, an effective portrait of an opportunist with a long-lived grudge to satisfy.

Derek Sitter is Will — violent, sly, overly emotional, and manipulative, with spiked hair, tattoos, and a disarming smile that eventually fools no one. Sitter is also the Young Priest of Sheridan’s fantasy, who comes to him for advice and encouragement, a dual role that Sitter handles with great effect, on one side evil and on the other side clean and gentle and promising; it’s a complicated and revealing double portrait. As Sheridan’s longtime friend and supervisor, the Cardinal, Travis Michael Holder gives the role a patina of authority with exactly the right glow, and Holder wisely lets the patina slowly crack as the facts become known to him, showing beneath the icon another very human man beset with his own fears and affections.

The fifth role is that of Father Rosetti, who first appears as an actor about to play a priest. He hints that these are all actors, with a job before them of playing men who are themselves playing roles, a fascinating Pintauro conceit. Lorry Goldman is excellent as Rosetti, both in and out of his cassock, especially in those gentle moments when it seems he might be the only friend Sheridan actually has.