Doubt, a parable by John Patrick Shanley

Weathervane Playhouse, Whitefield, NH, Summer 2009

Overview

The most striking thing to me about John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt is that it scans. As in scansion. I don’t know what Shanley was thinking when he wrote it, but as I read and reread the play in preparation for rehearsals, I could feel the pauses. I could feel the muscular intensity not merely in the words, but in the beats between words. I could ‘hear’ the characters thinking.

A particular challenge

Directing the play at Weathervane Theatre presented, in addition to the dramatic and emotional challenges inherent in the text, a six-day rehearsal period. I have directed Shakespeare in nine days, but this was my first time putting a show together in six. And at that, we got about eight hours more rehearsal than most of the productions there.

Weathervane is old fashioned stock in the New Hampshire North Country, and Doubt was the one dramatic island in a time-stepping sea of Hairspray, The Producers and Ain’t Misbehavin. A deadline this tight requires a higher level of organization and preparation so that everything gets the time it is due. We constantly ran over or cried out for more time during each bit of scenework, but having anticipated that, I built in a three-hour window of ‘who knows?’ late in the week, which we were quickly able to fill as we discovered what needed more time.

Normally, I want my entire cast to be on the same page vis-à-vis the backstory, but with Doubt, it seemed important that the actors not discuss the play with one another too deeply. Each of the characters possesses deeply held beliefs about what has or has not happened, about who each is and isn’t. I didn’t want our table work, my much vaunted table work, to interfere with that. I tried very hard not to make a decision for myself about what Father Flynn may or may not have done with or to Donald Muller, although by the end of our ‘lengthy’ rehearsal period, I started to develop my own beliefs. I told the actors on the first day of rehearsal that our goal was to make as big a mess as we possibly could, and then leave it for the audience to work out.

Nun sense

On the second night, a group of four older nuns were in the audience. I introduced myself to them before the performance and told them I would be keen to hear their thoughts after the show. The sisters were very gracious and filled with ideas about Sister Aloysius as well as Father Flynn; their opinions differed wildly from one another on the question of Father Flynn’s guilt or innocence. I asked if any of them had been aware of priests who had molested children, and one of them said that she hadn’t personally known of any, but she knew several sisters in Boston who had, who had spoken out, and who had been reprimanded for their efforts to protect the children.

The sisters talked at length about Sister Aloysius’ crisis of faith, and they speculated about whether she might be a better nun thereafter. I was also thrilled that the pastor at the local Catholic church in Whitefield, New Hampshire posted our performance dates and times in the church bulletin and, from the pulpit, encouraged his congregation to attend. Whitefield being tiny, we only got the one review, and when he was finished summarizing the plot, he didn’t have much room to spare for assessing the direction, but here it is, along with some comments from a member of the Board of Directors at Weathervane.

Reviews

The Littleton Courier:
“A strong, suspenseful drama, it is tense and charged … director Kathleen Powers offers a brisk production with utter conviction and intensity … the actors are first-rate.”

Dick Alberini, Weathervane Board of Trustees:
Doubt was awesome! We were totally absorbed in the play. The production was better than the movie: much better presented, better acting, better directing. My wife and I talked about it for days. We’ve told everyone we saw to go and see the show. It was, by far, the BEST drama we’ve ever seen on the Weathervane stage. People who haven’t seen your production of Doubt have missed the chance of a lifetime. Standing ovation to you on your remarkable directing skills! Weathervane would be remiss not to have you back in the future.”

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If we are to make Shakespeare our own again, we must all be put to a little trouble about it.
Harley Granville Barker

You lie, in faith, for you are called plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation…
--The Taming of the Shrew, Act II, scene i