You won’t find Vatican Falls on any map about picturesque raging waters. No, Frank J. Avella’s new play, Vatican Falls, is, instead, a passionate, sometimes humorous, indictment of the Catholic Church and its long history of concealing the sexual abuse suffered by hundreds of young men at the hands of priests.
Tony DiBernardo’s vivid, yet simple set—red platforms that were eventually arranged into the form of a cross—help Avella—who co-directed with Carlotta Brentan—make his sometimes confusing storytelling clearer by dividing the stage into two playing areas.
On the left side of the stage unfolds the romance in Rome of the American Ricardo (Ace Young, handsome, lithe and believable) and the Italian Claudia (Brentan, lovely, with a fine Italian accent). Although their relationship turns out not to be as casual and accidental as it first appears, Avella keeps these two lovers’ story constantly fascinating. Claudia’s closeted brother, Gianluca (an amusing Jacopo Costantini) becomes a middleman in this affair.
The left side of the stage also reveals events happening in the past. It is where the ongoing abuse of Ricardo and his brother Peter at the hands of their mother, Teresa (a very believable, irritating Alice Barrett-Mitchell) and the young, local priest, Father David (Edward L. Simon, who makes his sexual predation quite charming) is revealed.
On the right side of the stage, the members of SCAR (Survivors of Catholic Abuse Refuge) plot their revenge on the Catholic Church and the Vatican which allowed their abuse to continue unabated for decades.
The motley members of SCAR include the colorful ringleader, Vi (Tucker Aust, vivid), a working class Bostonian, Charlie (a touchingly gruff Danny Hilt), the cerebral, gentle Matt (Jeremiah Clapp, revealing great depth in his calmness) and Ricardo.
The action volleys quickly from one side to the other, from one time period and place to another, sometimes confusingly. Ultimately all the individual strands of a complicated story come together in a dramatic flourish.
The spirit of Ricardo’s dead brother Peter (James Gracia, holding the stage for long periods without uttering a word) hovers near him throughout the play. Peter’s fate is one of the driving forces of Ricardo’s zealous need for revenge.
Vatican Falls builds slowly until the SCAR members’ plot against the Church descends into violence. Ricardo, dominated by his internal conflicts, tries to find a solution within his faith, but it is questionable whether he can.
One of the more moving elements in Vatican Falls is how it depicts the growing respect and affection between the homophobic Charlie and the sweet Matt.
David Shocket’s lighting was instrumental in telling Avella’s story with clarity and Shirlee Idzakovich’s costumes were character revealing and sumptuous when called for.
Vatican Falls (through November 20, 2022)
High Voltage Productions and The Tank
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 973-715-2356 or visit http://www.vaticanfalls.com
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission