The film version of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt: A Parable is scheduled for release January 2009 and will star Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.
Last Wednesday, I got the chance to sit down with the director, cast and crew of the upcoming production of Doubt: A Parable at Heller Theatre, 5328 S. Wheeling. Erin Scarberry directs this controversial Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Shanley, writer of numerous plays and film scripts, including the Academy Award-winning script of Moonstruck.
I'm not incredibly familiar with the process of community theatre and ventured to ask how Doubt: A Parable was chosen for production. It turns out there's a council of community members who vote on the plays to be produced by Heller Theatre each year, and this year Doubt: A Parable was highly voted upon. The play works well for the season opener because we will have the opportunity to view it before the movie version releases early next year.
Doubt: A Parable is set in 1964 at a Bronx Catholic school. Sister Aloysius, played by Claudia Sanders, suspects that a new priest, Father Flynn, played by Nate Gavin, is having an improper relationship with the school's first African-American student. Father Flynn is shaken and angry with Sister Aloysius for making any such accusation.
When Shanley wrote the play in 2004, he decided to set Doubt: A Parable in the year 1964 because the Civil Rights movement was in full force, President Kennedy had been assassinated the year before, feminism was gaining in strength and Vatican II was coming into play. Shanley saw doubt and uncertainty as a major current of the times in 1964 as well as 2004 when the Catholic Church scandals were coming to the forefront of media attention and there were questions about the reality of "weapons of mass destruction" in global politics, making the play timely despite it's taking place in the '60s.
I wondered if Scarberry faced any particular challenges in directing Doubt: A Parable. She said that because the major themes of the play are doubt and uncertainty it has been very important and challenging for her to not push the actors too far in one direction or another; it is paramount to the play to keep the audience in the middle with its certainty versus its doubt regarding the guilt of Father Flynn.
Claudia Sanders, who plays Sister Aloysius, has been doing Tulsa theatre since 1975. She was drawn to Doubt: A Parable because it's an award-winning, well-written script, a truly "magnificent play" and came with the opportunity to be part of an ensemble cast; there are only four players in the entire show.
Sister Aloysius represents rigid old-fashioned ideals, where everything can be seen clearly in black and white, whereas Sister James, played by Ione Michelle Blocker, works as the person caught in the middle, a reflection of the audience for most of the play. Scarberry admits it's "never clear who's right or who's wrong," thus the title of the play.
Sonya Wallace plays the brief but powerful part of Mrs. Muller. Brenda Harris stage manages.
Scarberry acknowledged that Doubt: A Parable is "a pretty big ride in an hour and a half. There are lots of ups and downs. Each audience member will shift back and forth during the show, [experiencing] a gamut of emotion." Shanley intends for the audience to waiver, being unsure of whether or not Father Flynn is guilty and expects to leave the audience divided. Director and cast agree it's important to bring someone along because there will be much to discuss after the play. Sanders commented Shanley "has tried to leave the audience at the end split," which always makes for lively conversation after taking in a play.
During our chat, Blocker paraphrased Shanley's observation, "doubt is infinite -- we always see it as a weakness -- instead of a necessity for change." Certainly something to talk about after the show. I was allowed a sneak peak of the opening monologue by Nate Gavin as Father Flynn. He was compelling and intense.
There will be three opportunities for audience "Talkbacks" on Oct., 10, 17 and 18. The show runs for about 90 minutes with no intermission. There will be a short break after the show and before the Talkback, in which audience members can discuss the show with the director and cast.
Although Doubt: A Parable is a serious show, there are many moments for humor, often found in awkward situations, so don't be surprised if you find yourself laughing through the intensity of the play.
This is the last performance in Heller Theatre on Wheeling; as Scarberry said, "the final swan song" for the space. After more than 26 years of local productions, the theatre is moving to Henthorne Park.
Be sure to check out the Heller Theatre's season opener. The play is for mature audiences. Doubt: A Parable runs October 10-19.
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