The young boy in the black and white photograph is outgoing and energetic. He's standing in a kayak in the shallow waters of a lake and holding an oar over his head like a pint-sized muscleman.
"That's me at age 12," says Martin Moran, creator and performer of the one-man play, The Tricky Part. "That was taken 34 years ago in 1972."
There's more to the photograph than Moran is telling. But he's saving his shocking secret for later in the performance.
Chattiness and good humor about Cincinnati weather and growing up Catholic in a Denver suburb are the icebreakers between Moran and the moderate crowd gathered in the intimate Shelterhouse Theater at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
Moran is affable and casually dressed, with sandy colored hair and a boyish face. He sits on wooden barstool, one of only two items on the small stage, and tells stories with the easygoing nature of Billy Crystal, exchanging Catholic jokes for Jewish family stories.
The backdrop, the set for the Playhouse's production of Yellowman, is a series of metallic panels that resemble Frank Gehry's Disney Hall.
The stage floor is covered in colored quilts like a gym ready for tumbling class.
Little effects are needed because The Tricky Part is all about Moran and what he has to say. The Catholic school jokes are misleading once Moran reaches the heart of his play — his confrontation on April 4, 2002, with the man who started abusing him sexually when he was 12.
Moran has razor-sharp memory when it comes to details about his first night of sexual abuse, a camping trip led by a camp counselor named Bob, as well his confrontation with Bob 30 years later. He resorts to the occasional joke to reduce the tension, but his words remain rich and emotional.
At the show's finale, Moran refers back to the photograph, a picture that's never left his side. Bob, the man who abused him at age 12, took the photograph.
"Is it possible that what harms us comes to restore us?" Moran asks the shaken audience.
A question-and-answer session after the show grants audience members the chance to commiserate and share their own abuse stories. People struggle with their questions, but Moran has quick answers for them.
He's had these conversations many times before. The Tricky Part played for 10 weeks in New York City before moving on to regional theaters across the country, including Moran's hometown of Denver.
He jokes about the amount of money he spent on therapy and the length of time it took him to write the play. His father passed away last summer, just 12 days after the play was published as a memoir. His father never saw the play performed and refused to read advance copies of the book. He wasn't ready, but Moran knows that the time is right for The Tricky Part to be out.
"None of us works in a vacuum," Moran says, after signing books for the audience members who waited to meet him personally. "We're all engaged by what's going on culturally around us."
Asked if the box office and critical success of the film Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee's epic western about two cowboys who keep their love for each other hidden, has made it easier to take The Tricky Part across the country, Moran nods in agreement.
"I know in the heartland it's difficult for many people to get past the homosexuality and to see these as human stories," he says. "But that's what they are — Brokeback Mountain or The Tricky Part. I don't think my father would ever have been ready to watch The Tricky Part. He was a man from a different time. But I do think the climate has changed in recent months.
"This is beyond tolerance. This is about seeing this play — my story — as a human story."
Contact steve ramos: sramos(at)citybeat.com