Good boys don’t talk about sex and Martin Moran (pictured) was a darling of churchgoers in Denver, USA. He was 12, had floppy blonde hair, a bright face and the sunshine in his smile. Even when he became quiet, there were no clues to his terrible secret — at a summer camp that year he had been sexually abused by his counselor, a man his parents trusted. It happened again and again, and again. “It carried on until I was 15 and it was something unspeakable. We boys have the sense of shame and I felt that I was not man enough,” says Moran. Now in his 50s, based in New York, Moran is travelling across India with two plays that have drawn upon the years of sexual abuse. Titled The Tricky Part and All The Rage, these will be staged at India Habitat Centre on November 15 and 16.
The Tricky Part was born years after Moran stifled his shame in sorrow and silence. “In my 30s, I felt the need to answer an urgent question, ‘What happened when you were a child, Martin?’ I got to the bottom of this and, in the end, the play became a deep exploration and contemplation of forgiveness,” he says over phone, where the first part of the tour was recently held. Seated alone on a stage with a photograph of himself as a 12 year old as the only prop, Moran addresses the audience: “Do you know what happened?”
The narrative pitches from Moran’s childhood and years of abuse and its aftermath to his search for the predator. “When I found and confronted him, I was 42 and he was in his 50s and living as a patient in a veteran’s hospital,” he says.
Moran’s life in Broadway, the culture district of New York, includes a slew of musicals, and he sprinkles his accounts in The Tricky Part with American humour. “I got into theatre because I was crazy,” he says, “and also because we can learn from stories, they carry ideas, messages and lessons.” He rattles off statistics: “One in every six men is abused and I am a board member of a website called http://www.oneinsix.org, a quiet and safe place for men to seek help. Poorna Jagannathan (actor of Delhi Belly who has brought Moran’s plays to India) tells me that the figures in this country could be one in two men. Men have a particular problem in not being able to speak about their trauma. With my plays, I want to start a dialogue about male abuse,” he says.
The Tricky Part premiered in New York in 2004, won an Obie Award (a prestigious award for non-mainstream theatre), and was published by the same name. All along, however, the second part of the actor’s bildungsroman was churning. “After the tricky questions were over, people would ask me, ‘Martin, why aren’t you more angry about the abuse?’ I wondered if I was burying my anger in denial. Have I not dealt with my anger? Is it buried inside me?” he says. The personal riddles grew into curiosity about human anger and forgiveness and Moran began to walk down the path where “anger and compassion collide in human life”.
All the Rage, which documents this journey in forgiveness, recounts encounters with an African immigrant who is seeking asylum in the US and “my stepmother whom I did not like” among others. It was staged in 2013 and won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show. The play, despite its spiritual tones, isn’t a sermon. Moran describes it as physical comedy in which “I run and jump around the stage and even sing a bit because the stage is where people can connect and magical things are possible”.