Did he or didn’t he?
Second local production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt strives to keep you guessing
This week Rogue Theatre is opening John Patrick Shanley’s award-winning play Doubt: A Parable. This show, about faith, suspicion, religion and pedophilia, will be playing at 1078 Gallery.
Since its original premier Off Broadway in 2004, Doubt has won just about every award in sight, including four Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Although the play opened in the wake of the Catholic Church sex scandals earlier this decade, the politics of the Church merely acts as a colorful backdrop for a play about how people jump to conclusions.
The story takes place at a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, during the transitional years of the Second Vatican Council. The school’s principal, a severe nun named Sister Aloysius, prefers the good old days of Catholicism before the Church decided to loosen its restrictions to become more user-friendly.
Her reign as the school’s mistress is disrupted when she receives a young, charismatic priest named Father Flynn who embodies all the candid, congenial friendliness of Vatican II. He welcomes his students with open arms and quickly wins popularity in the community.
But events lead Sister Aloysius to suspect that Father Flynn is being a little too friendly with the kiddies. Specifically, she believes he’s abusing the school’s only black student. Sister Aloysius sniffs around for more evidence and is able to turn up only things that can be explained as purely circumstantial: the smell of alcohol on the student’s breath, reports that he has been pulled out of class for private meetings in Father Flynn’s office, and a mother’s admission that her son has always been “that way.”
Sister Aloysius’ crusade then becomes a struggle between the popular logic that Father Flynn is innocent and her intuition that he is guilty. There is evidence on both sides, but the consequences range from letting a predator go unpunished to ruining the reputation of a priest who has been falsely accused.
The story is about how biases and prejudices color people’s decision making, said Jerry Miller, the film’s director. The story is about how dangerous subjectivity can be because people often see what they want to see and not what is actually there.
Doubt is purposefully constructed to remain ambiguous so two people watching the show can walk away with completely opposite views of what happened, Miller said. The play was created to ignite strong reactions in people, to push people beyond an intellectual discussion into a place that is more emotional.
“It’s about how we operate as human beings,” Miller said.
The Blue Room presented its rendition of Doubt in September, making this the play’s second run in Chico. Rogue Theater isn’t worried the show will be redundant, however, because there is so much room to interpret the text.
“I don’t think we could make the same play if we wanted to,” Miller said.
Doubt follows in the tradition of other plays, such as Oleanna, in which there is no right or wrong answer. It’s a tightrope until the end as to whether Father Flynn did or did not “interfere” with his student.
The play is constructed so there are no easy conclusions. It is supposed to leave you, ultimately, in doubt.