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Review: Reliving a Childhood Interrupted in ‘The Tricky Part’

Category: Art & Culture,Theater

That’s a good description of how “The Tricky Part” operates in performance. (Mr. Moran used the same material as the basis for his 2005 book of the same title, but the story’s insistence on the simultaneity of past and present only deepens when experienced live, in real time.)

As agreeably comfortable as the show feels in its opening moments, there is also a sense that the straightforward narrative here is being tugged at and undermined by forces we don’t grasp yet. A silence always yawns beneath the chatter, and as an actor, Mr. Moran makes sure we acknowledge and respect what is unspoken and perhaps undefinable.

The lights have been growing dimmer, without our really knowing it, as Mr. Moran keeps talking. (Elizabeth Mak’s lighting is essential to the production’s power.) And when he finally tells us about the night that Bob — a camp counselor and Vietnam veteran — took the 12-year-old Martin into his sleeping bag in a mountain ranch house, the theater is almost entirely dark.

Only Mr. Moran’s face is illuminated. And at that moment, there is no question that it is also the face of the boy in the picture. It is not the face of a victim — or not merely that — but of someone experiencing a kind of horrible apotheosis that feels absolutely natural and deeply, totally wrong.

That’s a dangerous contradiction to live with. Mr. Moran assesses the damage his relationship with Bob inflicted on his life in brief, blunt references to two suicide attempts, years in therapy and a period of being “sexually compulsive.” With an artist’s appreciation of reticence, he doesn’t need to say more.

When Mr. Moran was 42, he got in touch with Bob, by then a resident of a veteran’s hospital in Los Angeles. His account of their meeting takes place in sunlight. Bob has changed from the strapping, athletic figure the young Martin once knew into a white-haired invalid “who looks to be somebody’s grandmother.” That does not mean the older man no longer has a grip on the younger one.

I won’t tell you what they say to each other, except to note that it is both commonplace and shocking, as tragedy tends to be when it’s embedded in the pedestrian details of everyday life. It is not a scene of resolution or closure or even full explanation.

The final image finds Mr. Moran looking once again at the 12-year-old in the picture. Four decades after the photograph was taken, and 14 years after “The Tricky Part” was first staged, the dialogue between the two continues with full eloquent and ambivalent force. It is unlikely to end — ever.

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