The title of Megan Gogerty's musical Love Jerry isn't a sign-off, but an entreaty. Nice People Theatre Company, in producing this show about an active pedophile, asks a not-so-nice question: Can you love Jerry? I'd like to ask an even less nice question: Why should I be forced to try?
Jerry (Scott Boulware) and Mike (Jered McLenigan) are brothers, both of whom were abused as children by an uncle. Only Jerry chooses to perpetuate the cycle, and does so with his own nephew, Mike's 8-year-old son. Of course, these are real issues, and I have no argument with Rebecca Wright's direction, Daniel Perelstein's musical direction, or the cast's truly admirable effort on the show's behalf. Boulware's Jerry is frighteningly vulnerable, even as he betrays the only people who do, in fact, love him - though Mike's wife, Kate (a powerful and conflicted Rachael Joffred), suspects all isn't well with this loner loser.
The problem, as I see it, is Gogerty's efforts on Jerry's behalf, which occur at the expense of his victim. In a post-show talkback, Gogerty argued, "This isn't about [the child]." That perspective is her script's fatal flaw. Because this is indeed about the child. Pretending otherwise is more than irresponsible; it lets an autonomous human being become an abstraction, thus victimizing abused children even further.
As a parent, it's darn near impossible to tolerate her premise (Gogerty says her sister - a mother - was horrified to learn the show would represent the abuser's perspective), and you can't help wondering whether she'd be as interested in justifying, say, the motivations of a rapist who preferred white women approximately her own age. In presenting the piece, Nice People has wisely paired with the Child Abuse Prevention Effort, but ultimately Love Jerry does more harm than good.
A musical such as Thrill Me, about 1920s child-killers Leopold and Loeb, succeeds because it acknowledges that the men made a conscious decision to lure their young victim to his death. Gogerty, however, is Jerry's apologist, presenting a pedophilia manifesto - in the form of red-nosed chat-room-dweller Clowny (extra-creepy David Blatt) - and multiple excuses for Jerry's behavior. Maybe he's "just built differently"; maybe he doesn't have an adequate peer group or support system; maybe he won't ever do it again. I get it: He's human, and child molesters sometimes take off the clown nose and look just like family. But come on: Is the pedophile point of view really represented so unfairly that it needs its own direct appeal for our empathy?
By Megan Gogerty. Nice People Theatre Company. Directed by Rebecca Wright. Playing at the Latvian Society, 531 N. Seventh St. Through June 20. Tickets: $20-$25. Information: 267-909-3309, www.nicepeopletheatre.org.EndText