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Friday, July 15, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Theater Preview

Raw subject, complex feelings in "Tricky Part"

Seattle Times theater critic

Martin Moran opens his book "The Tricky Part" with a 2002 trip to a VA Hospital in Colorado, to visit an elderly, white-haired man named Bob.

Bob (no surname given) is a former Catholic youth worker, whom Moran first met as a boy in a church summer camp. But this trip isn't a casual reunion with a long-ago mentor.

As chronicled in both the book and the hit solo play of the same title (which he performs tonight through Aug. 13 at Intiman Theatre), at age 12 Moran was sexually molested by Bob. And only decades later was he able to examine how this furtive three-year relationship with the older man impacted his life — triggering suicide attempts in his teens, deep anxiety and depression in his 20s, but later, self-awareness and self-forgiveness.

Moran is 45 now, a New York-based writer-performer working on a screenplay for "The Tricky Part." But he began to tell his story by "writing tiny scribbles, journal bits, around 15 years ago. I've met many people who have been dismantled, ruined by something like this. But what I started to do was negotiate through the paradox of my relationship, see how it was many things at once — a destruction and a life force. Seeing Bob as a 100 percent monster, and myself as 100 percent victim, would be shelving it."

Theater preview

"The Tricky Part," by Martin Moran, starts previews today, opens Wednesday and runs through Aug. 13 at Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center; $10-$46 ( or 206-269-1900). Moran reads from his book "The Tricky Part: One Boy's Fall from Trespass into Grace" 7:30 p.m. July 25, Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle.

Moran narrates his memoir of innocence lost, and grace attained, in the play "The Tricky Part," a surprise Off-Broadway hit and 2004 Obie winner that won glowing reviews for its candor and eloquence. Denver Post critic John Moore called it "a mesmerizing, harrowing confessional that defies every preconceived belief about pedophilia."

But the feelings of complicity, ambivalence and even love Moran discusses onstage and in print have also drawn flak. "Some people have asked me why I'm not more angry — especially in Denver, where the subject is still raw. I tell them I set out to write a play and not a rant. It's an inquiry into the humanity of the situation, the complexity."

Moran doesn't condone the behavior of Bob (whom the Denver Post exposed as a convicted sex offender who also molested other boys) — or any other pederasts. Far from it.

"I want to make it very, very clear, flat-out, that to cross the sexual line with a child is absolutely wrong and destructive in our culture," he says. "At 12, you don't have a brain, a soul, that's ready to consent. The adult has the power, and is the exploiter."

And the opportunist. "I met Bob at a time when I was worried I would turn out different than other boys, that I was a sissy," Moran recalls. "And here was this strapping, 6-foot, 30-year-old ranger, who climbed mountains and shot guns, taking a big interest in me.

"My parents, bless them, are good, kind people, but they were in the middle of divorcing. My mom wasn't well, my Dad was drinking. So this guy filled a void."

Moran hid from his folks the overnight trysts at Bob's country cabin at first, pretending they were sleepovers with friends. But when his parents eventually met Bob, like many sexual predators he charmed them and seemed trustworthy.

"When I broke away from him at age 15, it was cold turkey," Moran recalls. "Then came secrecy and shame, depression and suicidal feelings, which you find in a lot of kids who've been molested. You learn to compartmentalize your feelings. You really are split. That's part of the tragedy, because it comes very hard to find integrity, and wholeness."

Moran found solace in becoming an actor, and forging a career in regional and New York theater. At age 19 he came out as a gay man, and at 25 met his life partner Henry, who "has stood by me through everything."

When he nervously looked up Bob in 2002, and began developing "The Tricky Part" into the 80-minute script he's now touring, the scandals of widespread child abuse by Catholic priests were just breaking into the media.

"Subconsciously or not, what was happening externally was giving me inner courage to tell my own story," Moran notes. "You know, there's more than one way to deal with anguish and horror. One way is to bury it. The other is to say, look, let's awaken to who we are — how we violate one another, grow together, hurt one another, forgive."

"What I'm saying," he adds, "is that for the journey of my soul it was essential for me to transform this experience into drama. That was my way of walking through it."

Misha Berson:

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