“We were living in a time of great ‘certainty’ in our country, leading up to the Iraq War, and when I wrote this play I didn’t feel ‘certain’. The culture around me seemed to be sending a message that I didn’t feel certain because I was weak, and I didn’t agree with that. So the germ of an idea about certainty and doubt was there, but it’s not something that I would have written about. Things started getting interesting when I thought about the ‘black mother’, because in all of my experiences of life people have their reasons for doing things and there are rarely very specific reasons why people do things. It’s usually a fairly complicated tale. And I wanted to tell that tale, so I wrote the play.” - John Patrick Shanley on why he wrote the play ‘Doubt’
For those unfamiliar with the contemporary powerhouse dramatic play Doubt: A Parable, the ‘black mother’ that Shanley refers to is the mother of the first and only black child enrolled at St. Nicholas School located in the Bronx. When a Sister at the school believes that a priest has abused this boy, her suspicions are presented to the boy’s mother, who quickly fires back with an attitude of uncertainty, while inadvertently causing her to question and confront the foundation of her own moral certainly.
Within the realm of these opposing terrains of belief and uncertainty is where the fascinating puzzle and mystery of Doubt unfurls, as Midland’s Center Stage Theatre busily puts the finishing touches on a series of performance that will run from October 12-15th at Midland Center for the Arts with showtimes at 7:30 PM on the 12th-14th, with 2:00 PM matinees on the 14th & 15th.
In lean and passionate language, playwright John Patrick Shanley courageously explores the shadowy and elusive realms of human nature and ultimate truth Set in the Bronx during the fall of 1964, Doubt originally premiered on November 23, 2004 at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City. It was performed in one act running approximately 90-minutes - and in interviews, the cast said the second act that actually took place was when the audience left the theatre and began to discuss their differing opinions of the events rendered in the production.
In 2005 Doubt won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, Actress, and Director. Ironically, it was directed by Roman Polanski during its run in Paris in late 2006 and in 2008 it was adapted into film, starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Directing the Midland Center’s production of Doubt is Elaine DiFalco Daughtery, who is excited to be tackling this play’s balance of conflicting viewpoints and sensational front-page subject matter, which allows each of the four actors in the production the latitude to explore aspects of thought and personality that are anything but solid. A member of the Center’s Programming Committee, she previously directed Fat on a Thot Tip Roof and Peter & the Starcatcher, and is an Assistant Professor of Acting & Directing at CMU.
Her own play, Watermelon in Wartime, was featured in the 2022 Voices of Truth Festival at Powerstories Theatre and earned her an Author Fellowship to The Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She is currently at work co-authoring a book, Consent Practices in Performing Arts Education, which will be released in 2024.
When asked what distinguishes this production and what drew her to assume the directorial duties, Elaine points to many significant factors. “I’ve always wanted to direct Doubt and have enjoyed the play for a long time. It’s almost 20-years old now and one of the things so wonderful and also tragic about is the fact it is set in 1964, was produced in 2004, and now here we are in 2023 and the same issues it raises still exist.”
“The other night when heading into rehearsal I was listening to NPR and heard the Archdiocese of San Francisco had filed bankruptcy in order to pay out settlements for child abuse cases, so it’s kind of ridiculous we’re still in the same quandary, if you will; but one of the things I love about this play is the writing itself. It’s so beautifully crafted and there’s not a single extraneous syllable in it. There is so much meaning that Shanley puts on the page that we continue to make new discoveries in rehearsal and are still unearthing things, which is the joy of working on a script so beautifully crafted. I’ve wanted to direct this for a long time and think it’s the best thing he’s probably written.”
Are there any elements thematically that Elaine as a director is trying to emphasize and focus upon? “I think the actual story line is important, but the meat of the narrative is really about allowing ourselves to exist in a space of uncertainty, rather than plowing forward hoping we’re moving in the right direction. The play shows how dangerous your need to be right can be more powerful than your belief that you’re doing the right thing.”
“One of the most challenging things in rehearsal is that the script is full of intentional ambiguity, and we don’t want our audience leaving with a sense of certainty, so that means as directors and actors it requires us to make choices that are specific, but that allow for interpretation,” she continues. “Consequently, we find ourselves focusing on the nuance of delivery and might spend 20-minutes putting three lines together in different ways, which switches the meaning a little bit within the context of what we did in a previous section of the play, so there’s a lot of space to create uncertainty because it’s given to us, but we also have to facilitate it so we encourage audiences to question what they are seeing and hearing, to help them find their way to some kind of solution because the play doesn’t give us any.”
Given these ambiguities with the meaning behind lines shifting and changing with the way they are delivered, an A-list cast of actors have been assembled for Doubt, which consist of Ann Russell-Lutenske in the role of Sister Aloysius, Samuel J. Nowak as Father Flynn, Claudia Rios as Sister James, and Aja Jade Philpot as Mrs. Muller.
“The cast are amazing,” states Elaine. “It’s only four people that drive the play, so as an actor it’s impossible to hide and nobody blends in anywhere. Each of these actors bring such a special energy to the process and they haven’t all worked together before, so it’s fun watching them discover who these people are individually, as well as how they function in character. They’re all really different from the people who they are portraying’ - physically, vocally, maybe intellectually - they are different from these characters they’re taking on, so each actor is being stretched to do things they’ve never done before, which is awesome.”
“The set is very simple and start because this play isn’t about spectacle, it’s about the acting,” concludes Elaine. “The most challenging component is the physical mannerisms of the characters and working to shift out of the way we engage in contemporary society to the way nuns and priests engaged back in 1964. The nuns are covered head to toe, so we just see their hands and faces; and the actors need to be mindful of postures and gestures that can speak volumes, or when to seek eye contact with another character, so we can build information about each of their relationships.”
“I strongly urge people to come see this production. It’s a stellar script and an incredibly moving theatrical experience.”
Midland Center for the Arts production of ‘Doubt: A Parable’ will be presented Thursday through Sunday, October 12-15th with performances at 7:30 PM Thursday through Saturday and 2:00 PM matinees on October 14th & 15th. Tickets start at $19.50 for adults and can be purchased by visiting midlandcenter.org.
16th November, 2023