Reviewed by Jose Ruiz
When a stately and imposting institution like the Catholic Church suffers the slightest ruffle of impropriety, the reverberations are like a dinosaur sneezing on an ant hill. Based on actual events, author Joe Pintauro’s epistle of The Dead Boy relates the story of a young hustler who accused a priest of having sexual relations with him when he was a youth at the Covenant House, a Catholic home for wayward youths.
The play opens with the image of a dead youth sprawled on an altar, as Father Rosetti — remarkably played by Lorry Goldman — addresses a prequel to the communicants (audience), laying out a map of events. Rosetti is an aide to the cardinal, an imposing force, powerfully played by Travis Michael Holder, who, in spite of his pompous, pontifical attitude, shows concern over the allegations and hopes for a quiet resolution.
TV soap star Stephen Nichols plays the accused Father Sheridan, a dynamic, charismatic benefactor whose work with youth has raised millions for the organization. He vehemently denies the allegations and insists the accusers should consider the source: a deranged homosexual and petty liar.
A former seminarian turned journalist has been approached by the youth with the story, but it is uncertain about its veracity. This journalist, Tony McGuire (played excellently by Cyril O’Reilly) was also a close friend with Sheridan at the seminary and hopes this friendship will lead to the facts.
The youth, Will Draper, is in fact, a conniving opportunist. He tells the cardinal a history of abuse and homosexuality, calling himself a dead boy, but changes his story to the journalist. Derek Sitter was outstanding, infusing bristling tension in every scene. He also doubled as a young apparition of Father Sheridan’s, who haunts the priest with retrospectives of failed events in his life.
McGuire has faith issues of his own and feels compelled to betray the priest’s secret in print to alleviate his sense of guilt. His treachery shatters the cardinal, who had hoped for exoneration, and forces Sheridan to resign. It’s evident that the dead boy was not the youth, but the priest who fell from grace in what he called a moment of weakness.
The Dead Boy is a tense, thought-provoking piece with imaginative staging and creative direction by Jack Heller. The many clever touches such as the Gregorian chant-like background music and Father Rosetti’s paraphrasing of the liturgy while announcing the play has ended, add ambience.