Saturday, June 7, 2008

"Doubt", guilt and innocence

John Behlmann as Father Flynn, Jayne Taini as Sister Aloysius.

**SPOILERS ahead for those who are not familiar with Doubt by John Patrick Shanley.**

Saw Doubt at Portland Center Stage on Thursday. The play is, of course, famous for its ambiguity and refusal to reveal the "truth" about Father Flynn. Many viewers, like my parents, say that they start off thinking that Father Flynn is innocent and Sister Aloysius is overly paranoid, but by the end of the play, they come around to Sister Aloysius' view of things.

I read the script of Doubt last summer, so for me, what was interesting is that while reading the script, I thought Father Flynn was guiltier than I did when I saw the play. I believe this is because of the way the play was paced onstage, versus the fact that when I read it I could take it at my own pace. Sister Aloysius' revelation in the last scene--that she lied about having made a phone call to Father Flynn's former parish--obviously supports the "Flynn is guilty" side of things. (When Sister Aloysius told Flynn that she had phoned his former parish, his reaction was not that of an innocent man.) Reading the play, I took this revelation for the bombshell that it was; but I did not feel that the direction in the PCS production gave the proper weight to it. The moment seemed to pass too quickly, and the "guilty" side therefore lost some of its ammunition. I felt that the final scene of Doubt could have used a few more pages of dialogue, a little more space to breathe, maybe a deeper exploration of Sister Aloysius' feelings upon telling such a lie.

Indeed, the script ends kind of abruptly--Sister Aloysius admits that she has doubts, and that's the last line of the play. But one thing I really liked about this production is how it dealt with the final moment, giving it more closure. I don't believe any stage directions follow Sister Aloysius' last line, but this production had Sister James reach out her hand to Sister Aloysius, and the lights came down on the younger woman wordlessly comforting her older colleague. This was especially effective because during the rest of the production, timid little Sister James had kept her arms close to her sides and her hands folded tightly under the cape she wore--she hardly seemed like she had arms at all. So for her to reach out to Sister Aloysius is a moment of growth for her.


Mead said...

Well-observed, Ms M, as always. But you might want to preface this post with a spoiler alert. The revelation you describe at the end is a complete reversal of the play's previous scenes, and I would hate to deprive any audience members of their "gasp" moment.

Marissa said...

Good idea, Mead. Will do.