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DAMAGES

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There is nothing as zealous as a former anything, be it gambler, drinker, smoker, or, in the case of this long-winded liturgical mishmash, a priest-turned-playwright. Having left the Catholic cloth to marry, author R.S. Call beats the severely wounded, if not completely dead, horse on whose back rests the subject of clergy-related child sexual abuse. It is a topic still worth mining, perhaps—but not when embodied in such a disappointing world premiere production as this.

Call's protagonist, Frank Conway, once an altar boy lured by the evil Father Aloysius Dugan into joining a secret society known as the Seraphim, now struggles to find strength enough to pursue justice. The possibilities, though intriguing, are sabotaged from the get-go by Richard Scanlon's bland direction. As if left to its own designs, the cast seems to struggle improvisation-like through scenes with little, if any, motivation. This flailing about to make sense of the poorly structured script may explain the almost universally sophomoric acting exhibited here. One minute Frank (a wooden Jay Pickett) can't put two words together. Then, suddenly, in a ludicrously constructed confrontation with his abuser (played by Anthony Newfield à la Snidely Whiplash), he explodes verbosely with finger-pointing poeticism.

Meanwhile, Call's story suffers from mechanically rigid performances: Elizabeth Karr as Frank's ex-wife; Craig Braun's stereotypically insensitive Cardinal; and Yoann Cifuentes, Jason Perez, and Tony Persico as childhood versions of Frank and two other victims. Richard Voigts fares slightly better as an archbishop assuaging his guilt via the bottle. But only James Storm as a somewhat deviously intervening monsignor seems to understand the difference between character and caricature.

Despite all of this, Call's biggest sin is an overabundance of highly detailed clerical language blocking his players' emotional believability. The language is foreign to those who aren't steeped in Catholic doctrine; one can almost imagine the dog-eared pages of his canonical thesaurus. On the design side, Christian Eusebio's chapel-inspired set, consisting of stained glass and fractured arches, promises much more than this weak ripped-from-the-headlines tale can deliver.

"Damages," presented by Damages Theatrical Productions LLC at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 & 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Sept. 30-Nov. 7. $30. (323) 960-7740.

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