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AMBROSIO, Teatro Vista, at Edgewater Presbyterian Church. Romulus Linney's darkly rhapsodic drama based on a Gothic thriller from 1795, The Monk, is essentially a potboiler in which the title monk is ruined by a fiendish plot. But Edward F. Torres's sober 80-minute Teatro Vista staging downplays the camp elements, emphasizing instead the agonies of a literally tortured monk.

Like novelist Matthew "Monk" Lewis, Linney is weak on motivation; what count are the sensational effects and curious causes. Ambrosio is a Cordoban friar in 1500 (whose world is sumptuously conveyed by Robert Martin's Renaissance court) who wishes to confront evil to "freely choose the good." But his freedom destroys him. Corrupted by the gratuitously evil Don Pedro, sheltered, tenderhearted bisexual Ambrosio is seduced by both innocent Antonia, for whom he serves as confessor, and by a handsome young novice, who turns this priest into a pedophile. Convinced that he's the dupe of Satan--which Don Pedro may well be--Ambrosio finally finds himself thrown on the risky mercy of the Inquisition.

Teatro Vista makes a curious attempt to link the play to the present, beginning and ending with slides of headlines about child-abuse cases perpetrated by priests. Are we to believe these scandals were spawned by a witch-hunt like the conspiracy against Ambrosio? I trust that's not the parallel intended. Less ambiguous are the ardent performances: Henry Godinez as the anguished, murderous Ambrosio, Julie Greenberg as neo-feminist Antonia, Anthony Diaz-Perez as the smoothly villainous Don Pedro, and John Carlos Seda as Ambrosio's implacably vengeful persecutor.

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