Few institutions are as stately and imposing as the Catholic Church, and when there is the slightest ruffle of impropriety, the reverberations are worse than a dinosaur sneezing on an ant hill. Based on one of these afflictions, The Dead Boy recounts a true tale of a young hustler who accused a priest of having sexual relations with him while he was at the Covenant House, a home for wayward youths.
Father Sheridan, played by TV soap star Stephen Nichols, is a dynamic, charismatic benefactor who believes in his cause and has raised millions for the organization.
He vehemently denies the allegations and insists that his accusers should consider the source, a deranged, habitual, liar and petty lawbreaker.
The Cardinal’s assistant and Sheridan’s close friend, Father Angelo Rosetti, remarkably played by Lorri Goldman, is supportive and sympathetic, offering Sheridan unequivocal moral support. The Cardinal is an imposing force, powerfully played by Travis Michael Holder, and in spite of his pompous and pontifical bearing, wants to believe the priest and help him overcome his travail. Tony McGuire, a former seminarian turned journalist, has been approached by the youth with the story, and is uncertain about its veracity or accuracy. He was a close friend with Sheridan at the seminary, and hopes to use the former bond to authenticate the facts. Cyril O’Reilly does an excellent job as the journalist.
The youth, Will Draper, changes stories when convenient, discovering that each time he tells a good tale, people give him money. He tells about a history of abuse and homosexuality, calling himself a dead boy, and makes the most of his borderline psychosis to claw out a daily existence wherever he can. Derek Sitter was remarkable, filling every scene with bristling tension. He also doubled as a young Father Sheridan surfacing as an apparition to remind the priest of how his dreams have strayed.
As the story develops, the characters evolve from preaching forgiveness to seeking self preservation. Ultimately, Rosetti is fed up with the Cardinal, and leaves the church. The youth reaffirms his story for the journalist, and Father Sheridan is treacherously betrayed by McGuire whose promise of silence and forgiveness becomes a hollow lie. The Cardinal who had desperately wanted to exonerate his priest is shattered when he learns that the journalist betrayed a long friendship, but in true secularist concern, worries about the millions the suit will cost. One gets the feeling that the dead boy was not the wronged youth, but the priest who fell from grace in what he called a moment of weakness.
The Dead Boy is a serious thought provoking piece, with imaginative staging and creative direction. The many clever touches add ambiance, like the Gregorian chant background and the paraphrasing of the liturgy at the end, where Father Rosetti announces the play has ended.