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Triad Stage will present Doubt

by Amy Kingsley

Triad Stage doesn’t usually do trendy. Ditto for topical fare, the kind of New York or London production that tackles anything from war in Iraq to torture and immigration.

“I don’t really like plays that are like after-school specials,” says Preston Lane, artistic director. “I like them to be bigger than the subject at hand.”

So when friends raved about this play, Doubt, which dealt with the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, Lane was… doubtful. But he kept hearing, from more and more people, that the show was phenomenal.

Which is how Lane wound up in a seat – balcony, front row – at the Walter Kerr Theatre a few minutes before the beginning of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

“The people on one side of me were absolutely convinced that the priest was innocent,” he says, “and the people on the other side thought he was guilty. The interesting thing is that they both came in absolutely convinced.”

By the end of the play, Lane was convinced the show belonged at Triad Stage. He wasn’t the only one.

“Doubt is the most produced play in America this year,” he says. “Playmakers just closed a production.”

Doubt won several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. And Shanley is adapting it into a film starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

But that’s not why Triad Stage is doing it.

“We’re doing it because it is a truly great play,” Lane says. “It is one of the most significant plays of the last twenty years.”

It’s a play about bias, perspective and preconceived notions, he says, wrapped up in a story about two nuns, a priest and a possible victim of sexual abuse.

“He structures it like a great detective story,” Lane says.

Doubt concerns itself with more than the guilt or innocence of Father Flynn.

“Shanley calls it a parable,” Lane says. “I don’t know that it teaches a lesson so much as it makes us think of another time and the idea of doubt. I think we’ve moved past a place in society where doubt is an acceptable thing. This is a play that really makes us live in a place of doubt”

Which means we’ve moved into a place where intransigence, obstinacy and certainty are typical. That our discourse has marched so steadily in that direction should come as no surprise to those observing political or religious trends.

“We wear our preconceived notions,” Lane says, “And that is what we see the world through. We live in a society where we don’t have discourse, we have a situation where we stand on two sides of an issue and scream at each other.”

Lane, who is directing Doubt, has employed various techniques to get his actors to rethink those notions.

“I won’t let the actor who is playing the priest discuss guilt with any of the other actors,” he says. “Some days I’ll come in and say, ‘Today Sister Aloysius is guilty,’ or, ‘Today Father Flynn is guilty.'”

Doubt is unlike, say, The Diary of Anne Frank because there isn’t an agenda or much in the way of moral certainty. Which makes it a directorial challenge.

“One of the roots of ‘ambiguity’ is ‘bi,'” he says. “So there’s not just a wash of possibilities, there are definite choices. Every day as a director, I am making sure that every choice we can make is being presented.”

There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments, Lane says, and lots of humor, despite the serious subject. Throughout the play, audience members may find their sympathy aligning with one character and then another. Even at the end of the play, when audience members feel they’ve made up their minds, revelations threaten their sense of certainty.

“The play is an hour and twenty-five minutes,” Lane says. “But Shanley says it is actually a two-act play. The first happens onstage, and the second is the discussion afterward.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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