Chicago Troupe Hits Hub Hard with 'Sin'

By Robert Nesti
Boston Herald [Boston]
June 6, 2004

It may be the most emotionally searing play to come to Boston this year. "Sin: A Cardinal Deposed," which opens Wednesday at Arlington's Regent Theatre, uses the actual legal testimony of Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law to unravel the sexual-abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

Playing to packed houses since it opened in March at Chicago's tiny Bailiwick Repertory Company, Michael Murphy's drama has been an emotional lightning rod for audiences, including many abuse survivors.

Now Bailiwick is bringing its six-member Chicago cast to perform "Sin" in the area where the real-life drama actually took place.

The play centers on Law, whose leadership of the Boston archdiocese was called into question after the press exposed years of sexual abuse by priests. Murphy's primary source was Law's pretrial depositions given before he stepped down as archbishop of Boston in 2002.

For Murphy, the success of "Sin" vindicates a style of theater - the docudrama - that is largely ignored, save for the work of Anna Deavere Smith and Moises Kaufman, whose "The Laramie Project" his play resembles.

"When I finished it I thought, I'm really glad that I did that, but no one is going to do it," Murphy recalled last week.

Still, he sent it to the Bailiwick, which immediately called him back with an offer.

"When we were in rehearsal we thought we'd get six people a night, run for four weeks, and we'd feel that we did something worthwhile. We had no idea it would become the phenomenon it's become."

Murphy wrote the piece after following published reports of the scandal on the Internet. To make sense of the case he covered the walls of his New York apartment with papers that distilled the narrative and the many individuals, including accused priests, survivors and lawyers who were involved in it.

"I felt like one of those FBI agents in `The Sopranos' who puts Tony Soprano and the family on the wall," he said. "I shouldn't say that because the church won't like a Mafia reference, but that's what my wall looked like. Just keeping the O'Sullivans, O'Malleys and O'Reillys straight was difficult in itself."

Why put Law at the center of the play?

"Some people think that he's evil incarnate," Murphy said. "I didn't feel that way. I feel that he appears to have been corrupted by money, property and prestige - the power that comes with being a cardinal in the Catholic Church is so intoxicating that it allows him to compartmentalize. There are the age-old Greek and Shakespearean character defects going on here."

James Sherman, whose portrayal of Law brought him a 2004 Joseph Jefferson nomination (Chicago's equivalent of the Tony) for Best Actor, says playing the part has led to many sleepless nights.

"It's terrible enough just to see the statistics," he explained, "but as a father of seven and a grandfather of almost 17, I find it incredible that anybody could do what was done. But I find it more incredible that someone who knew what was happening, and wasn't a perpetrator per se themselves, allowed it to continue to happen."

If there are heroes in this story, they are the organizations of sexual abuse survivors and Catholic lay people who are working to reform the church, according to Bailiwick spokesman Mark Steel, who also plays a number of characters in the play.

"There certainly is hope - wonderful organizations like the Boston-based Voice of the Faithful and other organizations that are working hard to bring about that change that didn't exist 10 or 15 years ago. Is it a slow process? Yes. Is it happening? We certainly hope so."


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