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A new play opens a conversation

To watch or not? Victims gird for a play on the clergy sexual abuse crisis - in the actual words of Cardinal Law and others.

Going to see "Sin: A Cardinal Deposed" is going to be one tough night at the theater, says Paul Baier, the founder of Survivors First, a Boston-based support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

"It's going to be a pretty solemn type of response," he says. "When they showed it in Chicago they didn't have the parents of kids raped by priests. It's going to be a different audience."

Rarely has there been a show where the events portrayed onstage have been so inextricably linked to the lives of the audience members watching them. But that will be the case with "Sin," which opens Wednesday at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. Its audience will contain not only survivors of abuse and their families, but also lawyers in a firm that represented victims.

Taken from transcripts of the legal depositions of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the play will discuss the sexual abuse of children by priests they trusted, the reassignment of those priests to other parishes, and the alleged cover-up of the abuse by the church.

Michael Murphy's play got its start at Bailiwick Repertory, a small theater in Chicago, where a second cast will continue the show while the original cast comes to Arlington. A number of survivors, as those who suffered sexual abuse by priests refer to themselves, traveled to Chicago to see the play. Bailiwick staff say the reactions in the audience talk-backs with the cast after the show were often emotional.

Now that same production is coming to the region that's at the heart of the scandal. Yet Baier says he thinks a lot of survivors will wait until the last minute to decide to go. "Half these guys have gone through 10 years of alcoholism," he says. For some of them, "$30 is a steep ticket price."

Many may not go, still too seared by the events. Of those who do, Baier says, "There's going to be some anger. I'll be shocked if they go through 20 shows and not have two or three survivors stand up and yell at the actor playing Law and walk out."

While the play was drawn from the legal proceedings and does not reenact any abuse, that may not make it easier to watch. Some survivors say that they're more angry at how the church hierarchy handled the situation than at the abusers themselves.

William Gately, the Boston codirector of a Chicago-based group called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says that some audience members may have a hard time seeing Law portrayed in the play.

"What he personifies for the victims and their families is a second form of abuse," he says.

"Going through the experience of the deposition will bring back all the emotions they experienced two years ago."

Steve Lewis of Lynn, who calls himself a survivor, will not see the play. "I'm not going because it would incite some anger," he says, "because of what I knew for a long time."

John Harris, who is a coleader of the Norwood chapter of SNAP, is planning to attend the opening night with another member of the group and a friend.

"I anticipate that watching the program may trigger some anger with me," he says. "It's happened before; I'm prepared for it to happen again. It's important that people go with someone so they can talk about it afterwards."

David Zak, artistic director of Bailiwick and director of the play, says the Arlington production will have talk-back sessions, as the show did in Chicago. He's familiar, he says, with survivors being afraid of their "triggers" -- their term for things in the show that could cause emotional upheaval or outbursts.

"If it does happen," says Zak, "we'll have people there to take care of that -- people from the survivors' organizations. But usually the reaction has just been tears."

Roderick MacLeish Jr. is part of a team of lawyers that represented the majority of the alleged clergy sexual-abuse victims and forced the Catholic Church to turn over to the courts records from secret archives that documented abuses by priests. He says he's reluctantly agreed to attend the show late in the run and to speak afterwards.

"We've been through a lot," MacLeish says, sounding tired and frustrated. "It was two years of the most intense work legally and trying to help these survivors. I'm used to helping people and being successful at it. But we lost four people to suicide or drugs."

One of them, he notes, had said he'd been raped by the Rev. Paul Shanley. "We worked so hard to get him stable after he got out of prison. But he died. And how do I feel? I got him the money [from the church settlement to the victims] to get the drugs. I know that's not a rational feeling, but that's how I initially felt.

"None of these guys [in the church hierarchy or among the abusive priests] are in jail, Cardinal Law will be enjoying his new ceremonial post, and these wounded clients are still on the battlefield," MacLeish continues. "I guess we accomplished a lot. It just doesn't feel that way sometimes."

MacLeish saw a clip of the Chicago production and said that actor Mark Steel, who plays him, interrogated Law with the kind of fire he wishes he could have shown.

"If I had gotten that close to him physically, they would have called the police," he says.

Stacey McSorley Stokes may have some of the most emotional ties to the play: Her brother Patrick McSorley, a victim of the late defrocked priest John J. Geoghan whose testimony was key in the depositions, has the last word in the script. McSorley died in February, just 10 days before the show opened in Chicago.

Another attorney who represented multiple alleged victims, Mitchell Garabedian, mailed Stokes the script. "When I got it, I felt raw," she says. "I didn't look at it until two weeks later. And then it took me a few weeks to get over it. What I didn't realize was that the ending is my brother, holding the ice cream melting in his hand as Father Geoghan dropped him off. The very fact that the last piece of this play is about my brother's situation is an honor."

So she's planning to attend "Sin" and to take as many family members as she can, even though she's expecting it to be difficult.

"I need to see it," she says. "I wasn't sure at first, but then I thought if my brother were alive he'd be there, front row center. He was so dedicated to speaking out about what the church did."

"Sin: A Cardinal Deposed" will run Wednesday through June 27 at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington. For tickets, call 781-646-4849 or visit www.regent
theatre.com. Discounted tickets are available at www.artsboston
.org or www.bostix.com the day of the show. There will be a benefit performance on June 14 to raise funds for several survivor organizations. Tickets are $50. The June 15 show will offer $20 seats to members of the survivor support communities only. Catherine Foster can be reached at foster@globe.com.

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