It’s déjà vu at Jobsite Theater, where Doubt: A Parable, John Patrick Shanley’s dark drama about the Catholic Church, is resurrected, live onstage, starting this week.
This is right where Jobsite was 10 months ago, about to open this Pulitzer Prize-winning play, with a top-drawer bay area cast. The coronavirus arrived, everything shut down, and the future of Doubt was left in … well, you know.
David Jenkins, Roxanne Fay and Andresia Moseley are “returning” as, respectively, Father Flynn, Sister Aloysius and Mrs. Muller. The role of Sister James has been re-cast with Emily Belvo, replacing Caitlin Eason, who’s pregnant and, obviously, focused on other things right now.
How strong is this local cast? Consider the 2008 film version, which starred dramatic heavyweights Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Amy Adams in the roles.
“As we approached opening night, we knew we had something really, really special,” explains Fay. “And then it was gone.”
“We were hopeful that it would come back,” director Summer Bohnenkamp says. “We never took the set down. We left all the costumes hanging in place. And kept thinking maybe next month, maybe next month, maybe next month.”
Jobsite, the professional theater company of the David A. Straz Center, began experimenting with socially-distanced live productions, with spaced seating arrangements and extensive cleaning protocols, in October. The Jaeb Theater, roomier than Jobsite’s customary black box venue, became the central production site.
In November, Moseley performed the one-woman show Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, to a safely-spaced crowd in the Jaeb.
Even with all the enforced distancing, she had no trouble connecting with her audience. “Once they were there, they were there,” Moseley says. “It wasn’t odd for me at all. The only odd thing was not meeting them afterwards, the banter and the talking back and forth.”
Jenkins, who’s also Jobsite’s artistic director, says the lines, and the blocking, had for the most part stayed in his brain all these months. “I feel like Father Flynn definitely was still up there somewhere,” he explains, “and that the space – the air – has opened up some doors for continued growth.
“As an actor, it all came back so fast. We did a few Zoom rehearsals, where we were just going over lines, and then our first live rehearsal, putting our feet in motion. It felt like a really extended long break in the rehearsal process.”
For Belvo, getting the call to join the Doubt cast was an “honor,” even though she’d been looking forward to watching her friend Caitlin Eason in the role of Sister James.
She has seamlessly fit in with the others, and reports that the organic process of creating a living, breathing thing like a play is proceeding nicely. “Through every rehearsal process I find something new,” Belvo says. “I hope to, at least, and hopefully my partners onstage will too. I feel like Summer is the guide who’ll make sure that we’re going within this universe, and not outside of it. She’s our eye.
“It’s a teamwork thing. I don’t think it’s established when you walk in.”
Fay says that introducing a new cast member has been beneficial to Doubt. “Rather than us trying to ‘take the show out of the box, this show that we put away, and it’ll be the same thing,’ we’re not trying to go back and have the show be what it was 10 months ago.”
And, Moseley believes, the stress test of those 10 months couldn’t help but power up the acting muscles. In rehearsal, her Mrs. Muller – a timid character who’s essentially in denial about what’s going on in the parish school – is somehow “more assertive,” says Moseley.
“The character is part imagination and partly you. And I’ve changed in the last year. So has she. She doesn’t have a choice. I just had one hell of a year. It’s her turn.”
“Ultimately,” interjects Fay, “very little complacency stepped in, simply because everything that was so precious to us could be so quickly taken away. I think it made us take nothing – and no one – for granted.”
Jenkins, who as producer of Doubt: A Parable has a lot to think about, along with the creation and maintenance of his character.
Although Shanley has agreed to allow Jobsite to stream this production, to offset costs, it probably won’t be enough. The non-refundable rights to produce Doubt: A Parable were paid up a year ago.
So the question is this: How can Jobsite fulfill its mission – offering quality work to the bay area community, as well as keeping the acting stable employed – when there’s little-to-no chance of a break-even?
“From now to June, it’s a giant test,” Jenkins says. “It’s an experiment. We can’t expect that audiences are going to be anywhere near what numbers were prior to the shutdown.
“We know for a fact that there are a whole lot of people that will not be comfortable coming back into a theater no matter what we do, no matter what the systems are in place, until at least 85, 90 percent of the world is vaccinated.”
Doubt: A Parable runs Jan. 13-31 (the first two nights are “preview” performances). All information, and tickets, here.