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A benefit staged reading of the play

"SIN, a Cardinal Deposed"

March 19, 2009

The Hayworth Theatre, Los Angeles, CA

Playwright by Michael Murphy
Directed by Paul Mazursky

Steven Culp, Joe Spano, Carl Bressler,
Jack Maxwell, Edita Brychta, Christian Campbell and Jackie Blumsack

In Suffolk Superior Court, lawyer Orson Krieger treads a fine line between respect and contempt.

He relentlessly pursues answers from the elusive Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston, for his failure to protect the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests in his archdiocese.

Every question, every answer, every word of this play was taken from two hearings and one trial. All the characters are real. (c)


The 2002 deposition of Cardinal Bernard Law had all the elements of great theater: small heroes, a giant villain, and a troublesome morality that raised more questions than it answered. But while all the pieces are there, they still need to be shaped, and playwright Michael Murphy simply trims the transcripts and presents a fictionally synthesized laywer (Steven Culp) and his inquisition of the publicly disgraced (but Vatican-condoned) Cardinal (Joe Spano). It's smart and interesting, but wearisomely literal. This leaves director Paul Mazursky little to do but stage it as a stiff tableaux -- the Catholic Church's last ethically superior supper -- centered on the deposition table.

At that table, the Cardinal is flanked by his lawyer (Carl Bressler) and his fictionalized opponent. Add to this trio two actors who read the letters of witnesses, truth seekers, and church officials (Edita Brychta and Jack Maxwell, both great at shifting through a dozen accents) and a molestation victim (Christian Campbell) who oversees it all in silence.

While the cast is quite good, that all are reading from scripts adds to the inertia, leaving us restless enough to wish that Murphy had dug beneath the surface and unearthed questions he only gestures towards, such as the coexistence of good and evil in priests whose six days of benevolence will never balance their afternoons of selfish harm. (c)

On Thursdays, the Hayworth Theatre has been the home of a controversial and timely staged reading of Michael Murphy's 2005 Obie-nominated Sin, A Cardinal Deposed. The play is based on the actual transcripts of the 2002 prosecution of a Boston Archdiocese priest in the wake of accusations regarding sexual impropriety.

The trial takes place in the Suffolk County Court with lawyer Orson Krieger trying to get answers from the ever-evasive Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston, as to why he took no steps to protect the victims while shuffling the offensive priests around to various parishes. All the dialogue comes from the two hearings of Cardinal Law and the trial. This has particular resonance in Los Angeles currently as the culpability of Archbishop Mahoney and his actions are still an open question. The most effective scene in the play is the confession by one of the victims as he relates what happened and how it destroyed his life.

It is also interesting to note that the piece has raised some sympathy for Bernard Law on one side and total disgust on the other. After all, the priests were his friends and he felt his job was to minister to them. Tragically, he didn't see fit to shepherd the victims as well. By placing the victim's testimony after Archbishop Law's deposition, Murphy leaves no doubt where his sympathies lie. No matter how reasonable or understandable the Cardinal's actions were, the horror suffered by the victim outweighs it all. (c)

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