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Sin (A Cardinal Deposed)

Presented by the New Group, casting by Judy Henderson, at the Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42 St., NYC, Oct. 26-Dec. 4.

At the end of "Sin (A Cardinal Deposed)," the audience at the Clurman Theatre is too shaken to applaud. Not that the tale of Cardinal Bernard Law's inaction in the face of mounting evidence about the clergy's sexual abuse of children is unfamiliar. But the facts of Michael Murphy's play overwhelm its stripped-down, static format.

The 90-minute, intermissionless evening hammers at one's brain, sending up flares of contradictions and complexities. And it ends with a heart-stopping recollection by one victim that is all the more horrifying for being delivered in a quiet monotone.

The playwright distills thousands of words from depositions, speeches, and internal church documents. The cumulative effect throws a pitiless light not so much on guilt as responsibility.

In this case, the shady executive dealings, cover-ups, and hypocrisies are committed by the Catholic Church. It might as easily have been Enron. Even granting that one "can't undo the past," hope and trust were violated, emotions stunted, and irreversible harm done to individuals.

The human faces behind the accusations are palpable. As documents are referred to, they're persuasively personified from behind scrims by Cynthia Darlow and Dan Daily, who display flavorsome Boston accents (the dialect coach is Stephen Gabis).

As Cardinal Law, John Cullum uses indecision as a weapon—stumbling, rephrasing, and reigning in disdain under a veneer of reasonableness. Thomas Jay Ryan limns the prosecuting lawyer with a disarming politeness that conceals steely determination, while John Leonard Thompson is an oily defense attorney. As the late Patrick McSorley, abused when he was 12, Pablo T. Schreiber is very moving.

Director Carl Forsman pays particular attention to the rhythms of what might have been a much more static presentation. Nathan Heverin's severe set, Josh Bradford's austere lighting, Theresa Squire's muted costumes, and Samuel Doerr's use of funereal music enhance the mood of a painful, troubling evening.

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