'Shattered Secrets' Lances the Worst of Them All : Theater: Libbe S. HaLevy's play, coming to Orange County, follows seven men and women, all childhood victims of incest, in their bids to deal with the crime's psychological effects.

Oh, the secrets of childhood. A crush on the new girl in class, a peek at a yet-to-be-wrapped Christmas gift, those warm, delicious confidences you shared only with your best friend on the condition he would "cross his heart, hope to die," and never, ever tell.

Charming? Yes. Unless that secret is incest.

"Shattered Secrets," a play by Libbe S. HaLevy, follows seven men and women, all childhood victims of incest, in their attempts to deal with the crime's psychological effects. Now in its second year at the Powerhouse Theatre in Venice, the show will be presented Thursday at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana and Aug. 24 at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center.

"Secrets" has been produced and directed by Jerry Craig, founder and artistic director of the Hispanic Theatre Project, a Los Angeles-based, multiracial troupe. The show's seven-member cast includes actors from the Hispanic Theatre Project and We Tell Stories, a touring group that normally presents children's plays at local schools.

The Orange County performances of "Secrets" are being sponsored by Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Co-Dependency Centers in Bellflower, which coordinates therapy groups, referral programs and inpatient treatment for "adult survivors of dysfunctional families," said the director of program development for the centers, Jenny Francis. The group also operates programs in Long Beach, Fountain Valley and Mission Viejo.

Incest is a topic most people would like to avoid. But the numbers are hard to ignore. In a 1985 Los Angeles Times poll, 27% of the women respondents and 16% of the men--an overall average of 22% of the population--reported that they had suffered some form of sexual abuse as children. In Orange County, there were 676 reported cases of sexual abuse to children younger than 18 during June alone, according to figures compiled by the Orange County Child Abuse Registry.

But it's an especially tough subject for Craig, himself a childhood victim of incest.

"When Libbe sent me this script, she had attached a note that said it dealt with incest," Craig recalled. "That affected me so strongly, it took two months before I could read it. Every time I saw the word, my stomach would start to churn.

"But when I finally did read it, my artistic sensibility took over, and I recognized this was a play that had to be seen."

"Secrets" unfolds during a meeting of Incest Anonymous, a fictional 12-step recovery program. There's a diverse group assembled: Sylvia, a middle-aged career woman (played by Bibi Besch, best known for her current film role as Molly Ringwald's future mother-in-law in "Betsy's Wedding"); Gary, a bisexual street hustler; Akashi, the "group basket case"; newcomer Tom; Caroline, a Jewish lesbian; Elizabeth, the veteran of the group, and Carlos, a Mexican-American who exhibits multiple personalities. During the course of the meeting, all tell their stories while trading equal measures of comfort and wisecracks.

The Orange County shows mark the 15th time "Secrets" has traveled beyond the stage of the Powerhouse. The play was presented for two consecutive years at the Governor's Conference on Crime Victims. Two unrelated productions are also in the works: one in Berkeley and a German translation, which will open later this summer in Berlin.

But no matter or in what language it is seen, Craig said he hopes that "Secrets" audiences will go away with an increased sensitivity to the cause and effects of incest.

"Often, when we look at people with problems like drug problems or prostitution, we're just seeing the symptoms of the true problem, which is incest," Craig said. "We hope that in the end, (the play) will help create a climate that will be safe for people to come out and deal with this problem publicly."

"Shattered Secrets" by Libbe S. HaLevy will be presented Thursday at Rancho Santiago College's Phillips Hall (17th and Bristol streets, Santa Ana) and Aug. 24 at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center (1845 Park Ave.). Both shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Admission: $10. Information: (213) 866-5810.

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