After spending 17 years in captivity, first as a prisoner of Hezbollah and later the Taliban, Father Sean Pearson is rescued by American forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, when the American soldiers discover him, he's playing soccer with his captors. This seeming complicity with the enemy sets the stage for the second act of the priest's nightmare in captivity and Tim Marks' pointedly political hostage drama, The Cleric.
Marks not only exposes American military abuses of its captives (fight director Mark Olsen ensures that the beatings are vividly brutal), but also depicts the opportunism and petty squabbling between the two men interrogating Father Sean — Marsh (an assured James Kloiber) and Cervantes (played with volcanic ferocity by Armand DesHarnais) — and their superior, a defense-secretary liaison (played with oiliness by Daniel Haughey). Concurrently we learn of Father Sean's crisis of faith during his 17 years of captivity and, like the Americans holding him, grow suspicious of his current loyalties. Maruti Evans' effective split-focus set allows the audience to look into the interrogation room and the adjacent office simultaneously.
Shackled and wearing a standard-issue orange jumpsuit, Richard T. Lester makes Father Sean an intriguing enigma, part holy man (perhaps martyr) and part lay victim. Particularly clever in Marks' writing is the acid tongue that Father Sean uses as a defense mechanism.
While this priest, as well as Father Neil (imbued with wonderful pragmatism by Sean Heeney), whom Marsh invites to take Father Sean's confession, are excellent studies in ambiguity, the other men are portraits in black and white that often border on cliché. The play's political commentary only seems heightened by Paula D'Alessandris' portentous and sluggish direction, which, unfortunately, gives The Cleric an ungainly bias that mars its dramatic and emotional impact.
Presented by Mind the Gap Theatre at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., NYC. Oct. 29-Nov. 12. Tue.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 2:30 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.