Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Community Theater League’

Doubt, A Parable — explanatory piece

February 21, 2008

On Friday the 15th, I went to see Doubt, A Parable by John Patrick Shanley in South Bend Civic Theatre’s studio space

 

If you’ve not seen anything there, it’s arguably as intimate as their former space, the 77-seat Firehouse, though had I sat along the floorline I imagine I might have felt it challenged the Firehouse’s intimacy as the audience is seated on the same floor the actors work.  The space reminded me of many of the intimate theater spaces in Pittsburgh, including the black box in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh and the Upstairs Theatre. 

 

The set was well designed, and I’m always amazed by even the details of the painted floor.  David Chudzynski and Matt Davidson have a flair for executing a clear vision.  My wife even commented that she thought the floor was a real hard-wood floor. 

 

Jim Coppens cast the show well, as they deftly negotiated – so far as I can tell without actually having read the play – the complexities of Shanley’s text. 

 

As indicated in a previous posting, Civic opened Doubt at the start of Lent.  In fact, the third reading at Mass the Sunday before Doubt opened concerned Jesus’ temptation and doubt in the desert, and the homily – possibly a parable – included a moment in our priest’s life when he experienced doubt. 

 

Doubt’s title includes the words A Parable.  And it is through the lens of that subtitle that I viewed the events of the play.  That’s probably not always the wisest of ways to go about experiencing drama, but I couldn’t help it.  The very presence of the words A Parable indicate Shanley had more going on in the text and in his head than the tale of a priest suspected of sexual abuse in 1964.  Had Arthur Miller done as much with The Crucible, one wonders how his career might have survived another look by the House of Un-American Activities Committee.

 

Doubt opened with Matthew Bell’s Father Flynn delivering a homily.  In it, he reflects upon the assassination of President Kennedy the year before and the doubt and fear sparked by that event.  As he closed his sermon with the sign of the cross and I resisted crossing myself, I was thinking about September 11th.  Yes, there was doubt and fear in the nation, but there was also a tremendous amount of certainty from both the populous and their representatives in government all the way to the White House.

 

The story unfolded before us as Jean Plumhoff’s Sister Aloysius set the conflict in motion by establishing doubt in the innocent mind of Dana Vagg’s Sister James, encouraging her to watch for anything untoward in the behavior of Father Flynn. 

 

There is no text in the play indicating with clarity who is right or who is wrong.  Any sense of guilt or innocence comes from the actors’ performances.  There is no admission of guilt and no vindication of  innocence.  Without a clear confession how can there be certainty? 

I drew my own conclusions, as to Father Flynn’s relationship with the first African-American boy to attend St. Patrick’s in 1964, based on Bell’s performance and the circumstantial evidence as presented by Plumhoff.    I don’t know if my perception is the way he sought to interpret the character, and in a chat with the actors after the show, Bell deftly avoided establishing for the audience what his dog-walking 11th hour realization before the final dress rehearsal about the character was. 

 

I enjoyed the opportunity to hear the actors speak about the play, and Civic ought to present more chances to do so, particularly after some of the edgier studio productions.  For it was in the conversation that I moved from my end of show conviction to a realization that even were I right about my interpretation, what Sister Aloysius did because of her interpretation may not have been right or wrong either. 

 

Doubt, A Parable premiered in 2004, a little over a year after the invasion of Iraq and Colin Powell’s evidence to the United Nations that Iraq clearly had weapons of mass destruction, nearly two years after President Bush’s “A Decade of Deception and Defiance”, and approximately three years after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in his snowflakes, “Go massive.  Sweep it all up.  Things related and not.”

 

We trust those with power and authority.  We trust them to be honest.  We trust them to protect us.  Sometimes there are things they cannot tell us, but when they deceive us, they shake our faith.  Sometimes doubt can strengthen our faith as we choose to reject temptation, but sometimes doubt brings down what we previously believed to be pillars of authority. 

 

You may have another chance to catch Civic’s production of Doubt, A Parable — most likely with no Q&A after — when they compete in the Indiana Community Theater League Festival the weekend of March 14-15.  Ah, the Ides of March.  Serendipity.     

  


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