A small stage somehow managed to leave a big impact. John Patrick Stanley’s “Doubt: A Parable” premiered in Lindhurst Theatre at 7:30 p.m on Tuesday.
“Doubt” is a play consisting of a very minimal cast. Despite this, its story is much more complicated in theme than it initially appears.
“[Stanley’s] taking something that is very black and white and twisting it and humanizes what would otherwise be a one-dimensional story,” Director of “Doubt” and Professor of Theater Jason Chanos said.
“Doubt” is a tale of uncertain moral ambiguity. Aloysius, the principal of a Roman Catholic school in Bronx, has suspicions that the new priest, Father Flynn, might be having an illicit relationship with the school’s first African American student, Donald Muller. Throughout the play, her motivations are constantly questioned with no definitive answer.
“[Stanley] put some twists on it where you would have some doubts,” Chanos said.
Chanos said he considers the play to be “deceptively challenging” to direct. He defined it as the kind of play that requires characters who are much more realistic than the classic theater fair. As a result, he said he cannot ask for too much “flourish” in the performances.
Despite the tricky direction, Chanos pulled the production off quite well.
Father Flynn’s opening sermon was portrayed skillfully and with great force and conviction by freshman Will Craig. It is this opening scene that establishes the central theme of doubt and sets the precedent for everyone else’s acting prowess.
The actors managed to put their absolute all into every scene they were in. They all sounded like they had an investment in the words they spoke.
The force of the acting was also bolstered by some surprisingly dry wit that got several laughs from the audience, most of it coming from the blunt Aloysius. Aloysius’ actress, senior Karolina Keach, only realized that several of the lines held comedic value after the audience started laughing.
“We didn’t know there were comedic elements,” Keach said.
Father Flynn and Aloysius provide several of the most emotionally intense scenes in the play, particularly in the climax. Notably, neither side is portrayed as purely antagonistic, thanks to the humanizing elements that each actor provides.
Craig said he personally loved the role of Father Flynn. He found the role to be the only time in his acting career when he has addressed serious social issues.
“I’ve never crossed this bridge in my acting career,” Craig said.
Though their roles were somewhat more minor, the idealistic Sister James, played by Alexis Fitting, and Donald’s mother Mrs. Muller, played by Caitlin O’Grady, were equally wonderful. O’Grady in particular deserves mention for carrying a single scene with great force.
The ending of the play was met with thunderous applause and a fade to black.
“[The play] was really good,” freshman Chloe Howard said. “Will did a great job for being so young compared to the other actors.”
For Chanos, the success of the premiere was part of a long streak of good luck.
According to Chanos, the production of “Doubt” was done on a tight time limit as the announcement only occurred at the last minute.
In February, Chanos said he and several other theater faculty met to discuss which play to perform at the start of the coming year. Originally, he wanted to direct the play “Miss Julie,” as the theater department could not get the rights to “Doubt” from Stanley. However, Pepperdine’s theater coordinator Cathy Thomas-Grant had called Stanley personally and was able to get the rights.
Chanos said this was under the requirement of 75 seats per show.
From the moment Thomas-Grant secured the rights, Chanos had to hurry with the production. According to Chanos, casting for the play began as late as Sept. 1.
The production was a team effort, Chanos said. The light and sound designers were both from the center theater group for instance. The Our Lady of Malibu pastor Father Bill Kerze was also involved as an adviser for costume design and Catholic protocol.
In spite of the short time frame Chano had, he managed to direct an incredibly well-received premiere. Though he noted flaws such as the pacing, he said he was pleased overall.
He said he feels that the characters of the play “bloomed” during the premiere thanks to their actors.
The performances continue Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., and the last two performances will be on Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
As published in the Oct. 2, 2014 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.
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