In the preface to his drama “Doubt,” renowned American playwright John Patrick Shanley writes, “The beginning of change is the moment of Doubt. It is that crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.” This weekend, the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre will explore the tipping point between uncertainty and assuredness in its production of Shanley’s play.
Today and tomorrow at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Arthur Miller Theatre
The 2005 Tony winner for Best Play tells the story of Father Flynn, a priest at St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx during the 1960s. He comes under the suspicion of principal Sister Aloysius when rumors of sexual misconduct arise between him and one of the school’s young students. Throughout the play, Aloysius and her colleague Sister James grapple with the uncertainty of their judgments about the situation.
For his first mainstage production for Ann Arbor Civic, director Matt Martello proposed the idea of staging “Doubt.”
“I really wanted to do (“Doubt”) because I saw it twice on Broadway, and each time I had a different reaction as to whether Father Flynn was guilty or not guilty of the crime,” Martello said. “I think it’s one of the better written plays of the past 20 years.”
Because the play requires so much thought on the audience’s part, Martello opted to use a sparse backdrop to draw attention to the four-person cast and their actions.
“Our set is a lot more simplistic because I just wanted the audience to focus on the play and the words themselves,” he said. “I wanted it to be more of a ‘words show’ rather than a big spectacle.”
Those involved in the production spent a lot of time exploring the idea of doubt and what it meant to each of them individually.
“Matt made an effort at the beginning of the rehearsal sessions to bring out the passions, hopes and doubts of the cast members,” producer Brenda Casher said. “I was surprised to find such diverse beliefs among our cast, yet all willing to examine the beliefs or faith systems that exist within this play (and) the questions it hopes to ask: Is doubt useful even if you are a believer? Without facts, is your certainty enough?”
In addition to a large amount of introspection, the cast also took time to closely analyze the script in order to bring it to life onstage.
“The whole rehearsal process has been wonderful because the cast and myself have been analyzing the script as we go,” Martello said. “There’s a whole lot of gray.”
Martello is confident anyone who comes to see “Doubt” will be drawn in by the intellectual challenges it poses, especially to what he calls the “true theater enthusiast.”
“Very rarely do you have scripts where every word meant something and nothing’s wasted,” Martello said. “And I’m not speaking in hyperbole at all when I say that I really feel that this is as tight a script as I’ve ever experienced. I think people should challenge themselves and watch it for that reason.”
Casher shares Martello’s conviction that the play has something to offer every viewer.
“I hope that (those who attend) find something in the play that nudges them,” she said. “It seems as if the questions themselves are proof of our humanity.”