Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Doubt at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto; Karen's Birthday

Tuesday, July 29, was my friend Karen's birthday. It was a surprise party, more an ambush I'm told by those who were there. Although, she'd rather not have a celebration, her family wasn't having it and a gala it was. I arrived toward the end-- I found out about the party at the last moment and already had tickets for the theatre. I went to see Doubt: a parable, at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, a TheatreWorks production. Tamika White told me about her debut with the company and I made it out to see her, and she was great as the mother of a child in a parochial school where the principal suspected the priest had molested him, or had plans to do so. Doubt is where it starts.

After the play I asked the actor if his character had "done it," and he wasn't telling. He said I'd have to ask Tamika at the close of the play. He said the playwright left it up to the actor as to whether or not his character was guilty. It's amazing where doubt places us. Doubt often makes one act with more certainty, isn't that strange? Doubt is crazy. The answer is open when we'd rather some semblance of finality or certainty. Doubt is the question when answered that makes us wonder if there were other ways of solving the equation.

When one wins the case, doubt spoils the victory.

I read an essay once in one of my textbooks about a father who encouraged his kids to realize there are no wrong answers, just different points of view. With Doubt, the playwright, John Patrick Shanley, shows us with the two principal characters that innocence is not certain when there is doubt. Just the suspicion ruins one's reputation irrevocably, so the priest, if innocent couldn't convince the principal he wasn't. Her mind was made up and once convinced they know the truth, there is nothing one can say or do to change it, so the wise man moves on. If he was guilty, then heaven help the next school unlucky enough to get him.

It was interesting seeing how the principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (actress Kimberly King) read the evidence and how another, in this case, Sister James (actress Kristin Stokes) read the same evidence and came to different conclusions that disturbed and troubled her. It didn't help that the child was black, in an all white school, that he was effeminate, his father beat him for this unmanly behavior that the only kind person in the school was Father Brenden Flynn (actor Cassidy Brown)the accused.

I'd heard of the Pulitzer prize-winning play a while back and knew what it was about; however, I really didn't know what it was about. This doubt that colors what entertains and occupies American minds. The playwright says we've moved from a celebrity culture to one of courtroom drama. I'd add reality TV, the more challenging physically or emotionally, the better.

"Doubt," he says, "is the subtle or violent reconciliation of the outer person and the inner core often [seen] at first a mistake, like you've gone the wrong way and you're lost. But this is just emotion longing for the familiar. Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind. Doubt is nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the Present" (preface viii).

As the principal became more certain, her certainty seemed to take on a life of it's own. Perhaps this is why she said when one tries to rid the world of evil, one steps outside the circle of good and is changed by the fight. It is easier to stay certain than to challenge our perceptions of truth. But the principal believes she is correct, that she is right and wants to save this child from harm, even if she has to harm him to do so. Tamika is superb here, with her New York accent, asking the principal why she wants to interject such doubts into her son's life and between her son and the only person he likes on campus.

It's only six months and then he'll be graduating. She tells the nun; leave it alone. In the meantime, the child gets beaten by his dad for drinking communion wine, and is not finding any love on campus from his peers. Imagine the sigma associated with inebriation--blacks and their wine, winos.

None of this matters, though. The principal is on a mission to convict the priest. It's like a witch hunt. He has no defense. I kind of liked him too. His sermons were great and I liked his little notebook where he was always jotting down notes for sermons.

I liked his shock at the accusation too, when he realized he'd been set up. His desire to break the fourth wall that separated the church from the community was not well received. He was of a different generation. Younger than the principal, he wanted to bring secular elements into the church if the addition of songs from the radio--Christmas songs for the pageant, would bring more people into the fold. He wanted the community to see him as a person, not unlike them.

Sister Beauvier wasn't hearing him or Sister James, whom she was grooming. But she'd been married, before her husband was killed in the war. How many nuns have lives before they devote themselves to service. This nun knew a bit about life and the world, which made one think, she could be right and that she knew something about pedophiles.

Doubt leaves one full of thought. The pacing and quiet deliberation, sprinkled with a few sermons, where imagined scenarios were used to illustrate lessons in honesty, truth and beauty.

Doubt is at TheatreWorks though August 10. Visit Photo credit: Wanda Sabir. Photos are of me and Tamika White and rest of Karen at her party, July 29.


Post a Comment

<< Home