Take, for example, the love between a 10-year-old boy and a 30-year-old priest. Edwin Sanchez's play Clean explores just such a relationship, but not for the sake of investigating Catholicism's recent scandals. More than topical, Clean (directed by Olga Sanchez) examines forbidden love in many forms to conclude that all love is pure. But how safe is it to liken an unusual romance between a woman and a drag queen (one of the play's major subplots) to a pedophiliac affair?
Sanchez has no qualms about raising such controversial questions, though he does temper the controversy by making the 10-year-old—a precocious Puerto Rican named Gustavito—pursue the priest, instead of the other way around. Gustavito (played by 22-year-old Kurt Conroyd) comes from a highly dysfunctional family of four. Dad's a cheese-grater-wielding sadist; step-mom's a virgin; and brother Junior's a violent but well-meaning homophobe. It gets better: Gustavito's seamstress step-mother, Mercy (Marjorie Tatum), falls in love with Norry (Vicente Guzmán-Orozco), a transvestite in need of a wedding dress.
These complications threaten to weaken the play's credibility. (The catalyst of yet another deviant relationship, involving Junior, is especially unconvincing.) But even Shakespeare's plots are dubious, his catalysts less important than the changes they bring about. Sanchez isn't a naturalist, and Clean isn't a slice of contemporary dysfunctional family life. It's a heady distillation of impossible loves, all brought improbably close together to disorient, and later enlighten, a willing audience.
Conroyd and Chase Fulton (who plays Junior) turn in flawless performances. Conroyd's childlike gestures—slouched shoulders, clenched fists and an animated walk—are brilliant imitations of the real thing. He could so easily go overboard, forgetting the complexities and subtleties of youth, and yet he restrains himself. As a counterpoint to Conroyd's introspective (but still passionate) Gustavito, Fulton plays the aggressive, masculine teen brother with such verve and precision you'd swear he was born for the role.
To dismiss Clean for its taboo subject matter would be a mistake. However, it would be equally unwise to dismiss the taboo just because the play paints a picture of true love. After all, Clean celebrates a kind of love that few, if any, of us are prepared to condone in real life. I won't offer an easily digestible conclusion—this play deserves the attention that controversy inspires.
Miracle Theatre, 525 SE Stark Ave., 236-7253. 7:30 pm Thursdays, 8 pm Fridays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Opens May 12. $16-$20.