Preying Hands


A pedophile priest who targets deaf boys leaves a legacy of blighted lives and lost faith in this heavy-handed play.
Part I, set in the 1970s, introduces Father Larry O’Malley, principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf and the star of Milwaukee’s Catholic archdiocese thanks to the warmhearted charisma that makes both students and donors adore him. Unfortunately, O’Malley harnesses that charisma to sexually molest teenage boys in his charge while building a wall of complicit silence among the school’s staff. After a brief, veiled assault scene in 1960, time shifts to 1974, when James Grady and two friends, now in their 20s, discover they were all victimized by O’Malley; they vow to unmask him. When the police shrug off their accusations, and mealy-mouthed church hierarchs stonewall—“just heresy, excuse me, I mean hearsay,” blusters an archbishop—James and his friends go to the media with their accusations. Part II jumps ahead to the early 1990s, with alcoholic James unemployed and still full of rage over the long-ago molestation, his friends leading similarly haunted lives. Convinced that closure requires a final reckoning with O’Malley, James mounts a campaign to have the aging priest formally defrocked, an effort that bogs down in the church’s legalism and ingrained equivocation. Medugno, a playwright, and Seago, a deaf actor, are pointed in their condemnation of church policies on priestly abusers as well as in their discussion of problems of the deaf and hard-of-hearing. (Most of the dialogue is both spoken and signed, and the playwrights insist that deaf and hard-of-hearing actors play those specific roles.) As a result, there’s didacticism in the script, with characters sometimes speaking direct exposition to the audience or declaiming their anger—“Shame on you!”—to O’Malley’s imagined presence. Lacking Part I’s narrative structure of crime and revelation, Part II’s rumination on the psychological aftermath feels feckless and overwrought; as James bemoans the ruination of his life from a single brief assault, one starts to empathize with other characters who urge him to move on. The play’s high point is the revelation of the creepy deceptions—and self-deceptions—with which O’Malley weaves his religious strictures into his violation of children; it’s a compelling, and revolting, portrait of a warped moral sensibility.
A sometimes stilted, sometimes psychologically incisive dramatization of Catholic sex-abuse scandals.

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499272895

Page Count: 174

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2014

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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