"For Pete's Sake," a six-actor seriocomedy by Joe Capozzi, allows you to laugh with a man who grasps at dark humor to ease the pain of deep secrets. As a teen and young adult, Capozzi was abused by the pastor of his hometown church, who was also a family friend. His play is a wry, comedic journey through the mind of a man named Joe (the reference is intentional) as he unravels the stigma that grew out of this tragedy. It has been acclaimed for its honesty, sagacity and power in a succession of developmental performances in churches, colleges, conferences and in benefits for Road to Recovery, a support organization for survivors of clergy abuse. It will now be given a full production September 27 to October 14 at the Fourth Street Theater (in NY Theatre Workshop) by Starr Films and Snowball’s Chance Productions. Angelique Letizia directs.
Playwright Joe Capozzi is a TV/film actor (primarily), who resolved in 2008, at age 38, to bring light to a situation that has affected him and many others. Several years before, he had been forced to reveal a secret that he had been carrying silently for years, confessing "Father Pete molested me" to his family when he feared that his nephew was about to fall victim to the same predator. His next confession was made to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office. Eventually, The Newark Archdiocese agreed to monetary settlements with several accusers of this priest and Capozzi is now recognized in some quarters as a New Jersey Hero.
Capozzi's play was drawn from old journals and even older memories. Since 2009, it has had eight workshop stagings and benefit performances. In audience feedback, words like "brilliant," amazing" and "moving were commonplace. The work was praised for the nimbleness of its writing, its healing power and for the meaningful conflict it sets up between right and wrong, disclosure and secrets. One audience member wrote, "You took an incredibly painful experience and turned it in to something for others to not only learn from and to empathize with, but something that made us LAUGH!" There was also praise for Capozzi's masterful acting.
Fr. Bob Hoatson, founder/President of Road to Recovery, wrote, "Joe Capozzi has created a powerful and poignant depiction of the effects of clergy sexual abuse on its victims...a story of dying and rising that he experiences practically every day. The writing is brilliant, and the acting leaves audiences humbled, mesmerized and forever changed by what they see. I hope to see it on a Broadway stage someday."
Predominantly, the play is an outcry against secrets: the kind that you try to cover up with alcohol and drugs, which leave you emotionally starved, empty inside. It opens with "Joe," an eponymous everyman, wrestling with the decision to speak out about his ordeal. He is past 30, his marriage is on the rocks and his parents, perceiving his emotional turmoil, are worried sick. The play stages the torment in Joe's mind, with Capozzi retracing his ordeal, playing off five other actors. Two of them portray the voices in his head; one plays the priest, "Father Pete"--his real name; one one actor plays all the other male characters and one actress plays all the female characters in the story. The wry commentary of his Voices, who keep Joe up at night and challenge his every thought, are an ongoing source of levity as the play recounts Joe's painful journey.
The Voices often take the role of the accuser, blaming Joe for not seeking a more "manly solution." To side with them, though, is to commit the sin of blaming the victim, because his dirty little secret is overshadowed by a greater secret: that inaction by the abused is part of the human condition. The play is ultimately an inspection of this weakness of humanity, affirming the healing power of humor, truth and, ultimately, forgiveness for the suffering. The play has been referred to as "an artistic healing tool."
David Dekok (By The River, American Politics & Culture in the Early 21st Century) related, "As a reporter, I had become kind of jaded by priest abuse stories. I wondered what Capozzi could bring to the story to make it come alive. But I needn't have worried. He uses a sort of 'This Is Your Life' approach that includes liberal amonts of humor and pathos. His abuse at the hands of Father Pete, a trusted family friend, and how he blamed himself initially for what had happened are brought to life largely through the words of people around him. Even better are the inner voices he hears berating and comforting him...Several other victims were in the audience and rose to be recognized after the play concluded."
An irony of the play is that there is privacy on the stage, but little privacy left outside it. After Capozzi "went public" with his story in 2006, it was reported in the North Jersey press and is now easily searchable online. This has laid his life bare even to women he has dated, a phenomenon that is depicted in one scene. News articles have recounted the genesis of the play and traced the effect of the tragedy that spawned it on Capozzi's family.