Faith is tested on a whole lot of levels in Doubt: A Parable, John Patrick’s Shanley’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning drama opening this week at Jobsite Theatre in Tampa.
On its surface, Doubt puts names and faces on the Catholic Church’s ongoing pedophilia scandal, that of respected and sanctified priests behaving – or accused of behaving – inappropriately with young boys in their church’s service.
Set in 1964, Doubt pits youthful, charismatic parish priest Father Flynn against hard-edged, old-school Sister Aloysius, who’s beginning to have … doubts … about his interaction with 10-year-old Donald Muller, the only black student at the church school.
This, understandably, shakes the nun’s belief system to the core, at the same moment she’s mentoring Sister James, a novice who simply doesn’t know what to believe.
By turns uplifting, somber, surprising and explosive, Doubt: A Parable is a dramatic roller coaster ride of emotions.
The Catalyst sat down with cast members David Jenkins (Father Flynn), Roxanne Fay (Aloysius), Caitlin Eason (James) and Andresia Moseley (Mrs. Muller), along with director Summer Bohnenkamp, to talk about Doubt, its implications and more.
What does it all mean?
Roxanne: I don’t think there’s anybody who can say “I’ve never feared change.” That’s the thing that all four of these characters do, is question something at their core. At least for a moment.
David: It’s easier to just believe something. But when you have doubt, you begin to challenge not just what you think but why you think it.
Roxanne: What it costs her to be who she is, that’s what’s interesting to me. It costs a lot for her to remain in the faith and the belief, in the way that she understood it from the beginning and not to change that. I think everything is changing around her, and she doesn’t really know how to deal with that. Because she doesn’t think that these changes are right. Whether or not she’s afraid of them, or feels threatened by them, there is an instinctual, gut reaction that these things are not right.
David: Aloysius doesn’t know what the truth is, really. She talks about ‘”I have suspicions but no proof.” She has her certainties. There’s all these counterpoints that get put through. And Flynn, throughout, insists he is innocent. And what he is doing is trying to be a friend to that child – being the only black child in that school, that child needs a friend. Coming from a home where his father beats him.
Caitlin: Sister James is this pure, innocent soul that really wants to do the right thing. That is what guides her. She’s torn between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius because she so desperately wants to be guided by her, but she’s encompassed by all these feelings of doubt. Questioning the moral beliefs. And it shakes her. She just wants to believe the right thing.
Andresia: At her core, she’s just a survivor. Due to the circumstances with her husband who, the script lets us know, is abusive, I think she’s learned to tactfully survive. She maintains that ability above everything else. And she’s juggling the lesser of two evils – you guys can kick him out of here, but he’s not going to survive home.
Direction: Physicality is often as important as the words.
Summer: I’ve always had really strong opinions about the play. I saw a version where there was no doubt whatsoever. Later I drug someone to the show with me, with a different cast, because it was the greatest thing I’d seen the year before, and then I had to apologize to her. The difference was in who was permitted to dominate over whom on the stage. Who was towering over who. How do they have arguments an inch apart? That’s not something that would have really happened. It doesn’t matter what’s coming out of their mouths – their body tells you something different.
David: Summer has spent a lot of time telling me to stop yelling at Rox, and not to get in her face.
Summer. He’s at least a foot taller than her. He’s two Roxannes. It’s too physically intimidating; everyone’s going to hate you if you look like you’re going to beat the hell out of the nun.
A racial component?
Andresia: It still is racially tense, where they are, and progression is flow for black people. And I think that she has seen this as Donald’s opportunity not only to avoid what’s happening at home, but it’s also Donald’s opportunity to beat the odds of the world. She’s trying to tell Sister Alysius that if he gets to graduate from the school, he has a better chance of success in life. So being surrounded by all of these white people, in her mind, is also beneficial for Donald to make it through, for his future.
On the 2008 film adaptation, directed by Shanley and starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, and why it didn’t capture the intensity of the play.
David: I taught this play for years as a Text Analysis teacher in college. And then I was super-excited about the movie. But there’s too many characters, and too much “stuff” in it. This happens with plays all the time. The performances of the four leads, if you were to put them in a play, I’m sure they would’ve been great. But the extra stuff in it starts doing the audience’s work for them, because that’s what film does. The fact that you see every one of the kids. You see them respond to him. It’s way too easy to get entrenched in your belief, what you wanted it to be about.
Roxanne: If you see the child, each person’s going to have a reaction to the visual of that child. And make up their own story. If you don’t see the child, it’s so much more universal. It’s not “that child,” it’s “a child.”
Caitlin: The audience needs to walk out with those questions. That’s the beautiful thing about this play. It cannot have that tidy bow on it at the end. If it has it, then we didn’t do our job. We didn’t tell the story right. It has to be one hundred percent, every single person walking out of here having a conversation about it: “Did you believe him?” “I don’t know, did you?”
On playwright Shanley’s contention that “the last act is the audience,” taking place over dinner or drinks or on the car ride home.
David: There are of course many people who want that tidy bow, but that’s not what he wants to do: “Here’s this information – reckon with it somehow.” Sort it out.
Roxanne: It’s like Rashomon. You see something happen, and everybody’s affected by it in a particular way. And they would each describe it differently from the guy sitting next to them.
Tickets and info here.