Posts Tagged ‘John Patrick Shanley’

Epilogue for South Bend Civic Theatre’s DOUBT

April 2, 2008

In February, I wrote with anticipation of seeing Doubt in South Bend Civic Theatre’s studio theater space with both an invitation and an acknowledgement of its preview and review in the South Bend Tribune, and I wrote about my theatrical viewing experience in a piece that reflected on both the performance and the challenge any theater experiences in putting on a play.  At the end of the latter piece, I indicated a future opportunity existed to see Doubt in competition at the Indiana Community Theatre League’s (ICTL) Festival hosted by South Bend Civic Theatre (SBCT). 

The weekend of March 14, six theaters competed in the 2008 ICTL State Festival.  As a participant in ICTL’s 2004 Festival in Terre Haute, I can say the competition presented challenges unlike a traditional performance.  For a show like Doubt, particularly, one of the greatest challenges was that the length of the show may not exceed 60 minutes.  That means that the cast of Doubt had just under a month to re-learn the play in its 60 minute cut form after a rehearsal period and production involving the full show.  Additionally, while Doubt may have appeared to have home field advantage, the staging of all productions was not in the studio space where Doubt was blocked and produced in the round – where the audience surrounds the actors on all sides.  Festival performances were instead housed in the larger, traditional main-stage auditorium, so Doubt had to undergo blocking changes in addition to its script changes.

Visiting companies, of course, faced greater challenges.  There was limited technical time to learn the light and sound boards in the technical booth, and set up of the production could not exceed ten minutes and tear down could not exceed five.  All set pieces and cast and crew members must fit in the confines of a box taped on the floor measuring 10 feet by 10 feet, which gets pretty small considering you’ve got to fit set, furniture, people, and musical instruments if you’re doing a musical in this box on the floor.  The time limit for set construction and strike and the necessity of crew members starting from the box on stage means technical crew members working in the technical booth have ten minutes to get to the booth and five minutes to return to the box after the performance, and if you’re in a new space, finding your way can prove challenging when your mind is on the performance.

ICTL festival, while challenging, also proves rewarding as professional adjudicators gave immediate feedback after each performance, commenting on everything from subtleties in performance, to director choices and technical details.  On the final day of ICTL Festival weekend was the traditional awards brunch – where the adjudicators present awards after having evaluated all of the productions.  This year, the Community Theatre Guild, Inc. of Valparaiso took home best production, recognition for its directors, and a performance certificate for its ensemble in Letters Home.  Valpo also received technical and design special recognition certificates.  Colburn Lambert received an Outstanding Performer award and Beth Metcalf received a Supporting Performer award for their work in Kokomo Civic Theatre’s second place See Rock City.  Elkhart Civic Theatre’s Smoke on the Mountain received an Outstanding Performer award for Karen Hoover in addition to Vocal Director and Costume Design awards, and Doubt’s Dana Vagg received a Supporting Performer award. 

At the brunch, it was also announced that in 2009, the Region III competition for the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) Festival (which occurs in odd numbered years and feeds into the AACT national competition, will be hosted by South Bend Civic Theatre. 

 This announcement means that any production between Schoolhouse Rock, opening April 3 at SBCT, through the remainder of the season or any production staged in the first couple months of SBCT’s 2009 season has the potential to compete at the national level.  Provided they take home top honors at the state and regional levels first.  But even if SBCT does not make it to national competition, the chance to host the regional competition marks SBCT’s explosive growth from where it was a decade ago.  Its growth could not have happened without the support of the community through funding and volunteerism.  South Bend Civic Theatre is truly a community theater, and the opportunities to participate exist for anyone who wants to be part of the show.                

“Let’s put on a play” — Explanatory Revision

March 4, 2008


Despite being a community theater actor, I am consistently awed by the work put into a local production that local people stage for local audiences, and my experience in mid-February at South Bend Civic Theatre (SBCT) confirmed such high production values with its latest Studio Theater effort, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, A Parable. 

Premiering off-Broadway in 2004, and awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four 2005 Tony Awards, including Best Play, SBCT’s production of Shanley’s play illustrates SBCT’s efforts to stage current, significant, award receiving work for local audiences.  As a sometime actor for SBCT, I shamefully admit that until I sat in the audience for Doubt, A Parable, I had never consciously considered the diverse efforts put into any production but the ones I participated in. 


Most plays produced by SBCT begin with the play selection process.  Letters are sent out to prospective directors in late spring, soliciting suggestions for the Play Reading Committee.  This means for Doubt, A Parable that it was only two years removed from its critical accolades, and such a well-received script is oftentimes unavailable for community theaters so early in its life; in fact, Executive Director of SBCT, Jim Coppens believes SBCT’s production was one of the first community theater stagings of Shanley’s play.


Once a play is selected for the next season, SBCT builds its schedule.  Plays and musicals get directors, and directors learn their time slots and venue.  No longer confined to producing and fitting everything in a 19th century firehouse seating 77, and now able to choose between an intimate black box studio space and a larger auditorium, Doubt was appropriately slated by the Play Reading Committee and SBCT Board for the black box.


The black box affords greater intimacy with the play for the audience, and much like the former Firehouse space, where the action can literally occur inches from the face of the audience, such proximity demands the attention to detail technical wizards like David Chudzynski and Matt Davidson consistently produce.  As a result, the first technical meeting often comes next.  While these technical meetings are largely a mystery to me, the art that Messrs. Chudzynski and Davidson — and the volunteers they lead — manage to create, amazes and astounds and can go woefully unnoticed as the pieces which slowly appear over the course of rehearsals, suddenly become whole in the week before opening.  From establishing subtle lighting nuances and finding impossible sound effects, to creating a painted floor that looks like real hardwood, there is tremendous work done by a crew sometimes exceeding the size of the cast. 


Many of the directors I work with indicate casting is anywhere from 90-99% of their work, and I think they’re often just being kind having reflected above on all the cats they have to herd.  Auditions can begin 4-7 weeks before a show opens, and once a show is cast, rehearsals can run, depending on the director, anywhere from 5 nights a week for 3 ½ hours a night with “homework” to 3-4 nights a week 2 hours a night.  Despite having wanted to act in SBCT’s production of Doubt, A Parable, I believe the director, Jim Coppens, cast his show well, for the title includes the words A Parable, and the very presence of those words indicate John Patrick Shanley had more going on in the text and in his head than the tale of a priest suspected of sexual abuse in 1964. 


You see, the complexity of Doubt and its parable means the cast had to make choices, and Shanley does not make their decisions easy, as Shanley never makes clear for the audience whether the priest has made advances on the first African-American student to attend St. Patrick’s, or he has innocently sought to care for, protect and shelter this student from the potential prejudice of the parish and community. 


The cast’s choices begin subtly.  Sister Aloysius (played by Jean Plumhoff) sets the conflict in motion by establishing doubt in the innocent mind of Sister James (played by Dana Vagg), encouraging her to watch for anything untoward in the behavior of Father Flynn (played by Matthew Bell).  Yet as the play progresses, there is no text indicating with clarity who is right or who is wrong.  We don’t see Flynn alone with the boy.  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?  This play asks the audience to draw their own conclusions.  I will not spoil yours with mine, but I will say that my interpretation came thanks to the strength of Matthew Bell’s performance and the circumstantial evidence as presented by his initial accuser Sister James to his inquisitor Sister Aloysius.


Not until after the play, however, did I realize the efforts and choices these actors had to make.  For even if the audience chooses not to judge Father Flynn, Matthew Bell – the actor — must know what Father Flynn’s intentions were to the young boy, Dana Vagg – the actor — must know whether or not Sister James truly believes Father Flynn’s proclamations of innocence, and Jean Plumhoff – the actor — has the arguably the hardest choice to make, for she must know why Sister Aloysius experiences doubt in the end.  After the play, SBCT offered an opportunity they do not offer enough when they invited the audience to remain after the show to discuss the play with the cast and director.  As a result of this conversation with the cast, I reflected beyond my end of show conviction about Flynn’s guilt (or innocence) to a realization that even were I right about Flynn, Shanley’s parable is less about Flynn than it is about Sister Aloysius’ conviction that Flynn was guilty and the action she takes to remove him from the parish. 


John Patrick Shanley’s parable premiered off-Broadway 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 spoke to the UN about Saddam Hussein’s “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” and approximately three years after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in his staffer 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:  our parents, our teachers and schools, our church and our government. 


Not only did South Bend Civic Theatre’s production of Doubt, A Parable open at the start of Lent, SBCT also slated it for an election year.  There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might be aware from when a play is submitted to the Play Reading Committee to its closing night performance.

 But Doubt, A Parable isn’t finished.  You have one more opportunity to see this production: 

“South Bend Civic Theatre is pleased to announce the upcoming Indiana Community Theatre League Festival 2008, “Sharing the Spotlight” to take place in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium on Saturday March 15, 2008. Six community theatres from throughout Indiana will each present a different (abbreviated) play for adjudication by two nationally renowned judges, Mary Britt and Morrie Enders. An awards ceremony and brunch will follow on Sunday March 16, 2008 in the Holiday Inn, downtown, South Bend.This will be the first year South Bend Civic Theatre will host the event in its new home at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. Past years’ competitions have garnered SBCT numerous awards including first place honors for 2007’s The Gin Game, which went on to regional competition. South Bend Civic Theatre is honored to be hosting and “sharing the spotlight” with the best community theatre Indiana has to offer.The schedule is as follows:Block I: 10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Elkhart Civic Theatre, “Smoke on the Mountain”
South Bend Civic Theatre: “Doubt, a Parable”Block II: 2:30-5:00 p.m.
Community Theatre of Terre Haute: “Variations on the Death of Trotsky”
Kokomo Civic Theatre: “See Rock City”Block III: 7:30-10:00 p.m.
Muncie Civic Theatre: “This Song is Your Song”
Community Theatre Guild (Valparaiso): “Letters Home”A limited number of tickets will be available to the general public the day of the event for $10 per Block or $25 for all 6 Productions. Walk-up sales will be available March, 15 only. Check or cash only. (Sorry we cannot accept credit or debit cards for this event.) For more information please call 574-234-1112.”




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.     


Doubt’s Reception

February 9, 2008

South Bend Civic Theatre’s (SBCT) Doubt received a nice preview article in the South Bend Tribune yesterday morning.  And last night, the review was posted on-line. 

The very presence of doubt in our minds, complicates how we look at the world.  Some of us find it crippling.  Those of us who do are unable to function.  We are unable to take action.  But some of us overcompensate for our internal doubt.  We don’t want to appear weakened by uncertainty, so we choose our action and sometimes do so blindly.  Ultimately, however, it appears the only way out of doubt is to take a  leap of faith. 

It is therefore of particular note that SBCT’s presentation of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, A Parable opens at the start of Lenten season, as Lent represents a time for cleansing and reconciliation.  It is a time of reflection and self-assessment.  When was the last time you were absolutely certain, only to be proved wrong?  Doubt provides no answers.  When nothing is clear, how do you know you’re right?

The Sunday before Doubt, A Parable opened at SBCT, the Gospel reading at Mass was of Jesus’ temptation and doubt in the desert.  Sometimes the only way to conquer our demons is to take that leap of faith.  

Father’s Homily — possibly a parable — included a moment in his life when he experienced doubt.  It’s not an easy devil to defeat.   

The play runs through February 17th.  Maybe I’ll see you next Friday instead of at Stations of the Cross. 

An invitation to doubt

February 7, 2008

Doubt.  Faith.

Baptized Catholic, indoctrinated in the Church, Confirmed, I read in the Mass booklet for the first time in high school that while it would be nice to let all Christians participate in Holy Communion, because of the division in the Church, we ask that you non-Catholics not participate. 

And I thought Jesus forgave. 

Needless to say, I’ve struggled with my faith.  I was not married in the Church, so our children – according to doctrine or law or the priest anyway – are not recognized as the product of a holy union.  I think that means some folks believe our kids are to suffer in Purgatory or the first circle of Hell, and I’m not sure where that puts my wife and me.  Circle 4 or 5?  It’s been a couple years since I read my Inferno.  No hard feelings though, we’ve had all three baptized, and we’re raising our children Catholic.  Though, forgive me father but it’s been 20 years since my last confession.  I’ve got my problems with the Church, and they probably have their problems with me, it’s my relationship with God that’s more important. 

It’s the hypocrisy that gets to me.  Forgive and turn the other cheek, but no Communion for you.  We’ll Baptize your kids, but we won’t recognize your marriage.  I know.  I can be a hypocrite too.  If we’ve had all three of our children baptized, why not get married by the priest?  If I’ve got these problems with the church, why stay with it?  It’s what I know.  But who isn’t hypocritical?  I started thinking about this again when the Homily on Ash Wednesday was about praying privately, and donating to charity privately and not shouting “LOOK AT ME I’M FAITHFUL,” and then we turn around and get a great big ash cross drawn on our foreheads, I wonder a little bit about the mixed messages.

Were it not for the Public Intellectual Practicum, I would have auditioned for South Bend Civic Theatre’s production of Doubt.  As a local actor for South Bend Civic Theatre, the play appealed to me on many levels, and I honestly don’t know much about it.  It’s rare for me to want to see a production that I didn’t get to be in just because I can get jealous, but sometimes I’m drawn despite my envy.  The draw of Doubt for me is manifold.  I wanted to be in it because it was a four person play (I love being in plays with small casts).  I wanted to be in it because Jim Coppens was directing and I’ve never acted for him before.  I’ve acted with him on numerous occasions and that’s always turned out well, but I’ve come to look at him as someone I hate to disappoint.  Jean Plumhoff’s in the show, and I’ve never done anything with her.  I also learned D (Dana Vagg) was going to be in the show, and I just love to share the stage with her even when we don’t share dialogue.  She’s just got so much going on; she’s effortless.  And, the play is a multiple award winner.  Pulitzer for Drama and Tony Awards out the wazoo.  John Patrick Shanley, the author, wrote Moonstruck, and Joe Vs. The Volcano — one of Tom Hanks’ most underrated films, and I’d love the chance to say words written by Shanley.  Plus, I suspect Doubt‘ll be representing Civic at the Indiana Community Theatre League Festival, and the last time I participated in the ICTL fest with a one word play (Art) in a small cast (we numbered three), our play received top honors.

Anyway, while it represented all those things to me as a piece to act in, it is also a piece I want to see.  It will be my first time seeing a show in the new Studio Theatre space for one, and for another it’s about faith.  And doubt.  When I doubt, I am uncertain.  It is when I am uncertain that I am most uncomfortable, and it is when I am most uncomfortable when I learn the most about the truth.   

It opens tomorrow night and runs through February 17.