Thursday, November 16, 2006

Jonesin' for a "Doubt"

"Doubt" (by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Doug Hughes, designed by John Lee Beatty, Catherine Zuber, Pat Collins and David Van Tieghem), the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner for Best Play and it's Tony winning cast of Cherry Jones and Adriane Lenox, has been playing in San Francisco these past couple of weeks. Let me start here with the admission that I took advantage of the $25 rush seats in the first two rows of the theatre. Yes, I saw the spit and the sweat of this verbal wrestling match involving God, Catholicism, religious politics, sex, naivete and... more. So much more!

It is an unexpectedly complex drama, which is concisely written. Shanley has chosen the most heinous of crimes (child sexual abuse) on which to cast his heroines' suspicions upon and test their faith in each other, their fellow man, the Church and God himself. Cherry Jones' character casts the line, "In order to pursue evil, one must step away from God." It is that journey that she takes, and takes the other characters with her, that is the heart of the play. The brunt of the complexity rests on the power and nuance of the performances.

Jones delivers a tour de force. I must admit that I went to this to actually see HER, more than the play. Her stage performances have been held in nearly legendary regard. I can now see why. Her line delivery is so exacting, that there is never a throw away. Everything she says, she says with a specific purpose and expected result from her cast and the audience. Her diction, even at its most nearly hysterical pitch, was perfect! Then there is her body language. She literally facially and physically transforms into a woman who has carried the burden of protecting and guiding the teachers and children of her parish for decades. The crime and dilemma that she finds herself suspicious of, is not new to her, which only makes her more of a tigress than a 'Sister Betril'. Her face is worn and painful. Her stature is stooped, yet powerful. It is simply a brilliant performance.

Adriane Lenox, the other Tony winner of the cast, has a single moment that may be less than 10 minutes on stage. She is the mother of the allegedly abused boy, who is the sole Black student at the Parish. (The play is set in 1964.) Her conflict is with two huge social dilemmas the son is facing in which to pursue a successful life: racism and homophobia. Her struggle to protect her son, at all and at nearly any unreasonable costs, is a stunning scene. Ms. Lenox gives a performance to match the power of Ms. Jones, which is reason enough to applaud her.

The other two new additions to the touring production are Chris McGarry as the priest and Lisa Joyce as the boy's teacher. Joyce provides the overly sentimental heart of the play. Her character's sympathetic nature is the naivete which Jones' principal-nun abhors and seeks to destroy as much as she seeks to destroy the allegedly paedophiliac priest. Joyce is able to sustain a verge of tears almost through out her entire time on stage. She ably expresses the pain in which Sister Aloysius' (Jones) suspicions and doubt have caused her.

Then there is Chris McGarry as Father Flynn. It is perhaps the most difficult role in the play, as far as the fine line he must tread between being a victim or victimiser. He carries the burden of casting doubt onto the audience itself. For the most part, he does a fine job. And I am far from being one to criticize such an explosive performance, however I think the move to touring such large theatres as the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco (seating 2,300) has forced him to make some larger than necessary choices. He delivers the numerous sermons with just the right amount of projection and grandeur. However, in his shouting matches with Sister Aloysius he is nearly shrill. And, to pick at nits, he has one pause at the doorway that is held just a couple of beats too long, thus crossing the line into melodrama. However, with that said, it is a powerful performance.

The set by John Lee Beatty is a surprisingly large scale and complex piece. The costuming by Catherine Zuber is simple, yet allows Ms. Jones in particular, more than a habit, but a prop in which she transforms and expresses herself. The lighting of this difficult set, not to mention the monochromatic costuming (nuns and a priest in black and white, basically), by Pat Collins, is fairly ingenious. The sound design is effectively underscored by David Van Tieghem.

If you have a chance to see "Doubt", by all means it far surpasses the "$25 Rush" and is well worth the full Orchestra price. I wouldn't go up to the Loge, Mezzanine or Balcony on this one, as the performances are best caught, up close and personal!


Maxxxxx said...

"Cranky bird!"

ktylerconk said...

You really captured it!

Jay, the Angry Little Man said...

Well, thank you!

I included a bit more plot than usual, as I live-and-die to avoid spoilers! ;)
However, the play is so complex and the excitement is so dependent upon being in the same room with the performances, that I took the liberty of revealing plot points, to just up the interest level. Apparently, it is not selling too well on the road, which is a CRIME!!

Again, thanks for reading and take care!


ktylerconk said...

I saw the play twice in NYC, have read many reviews, and put yours right at the top!

By the way, Nov 21st is Cherry's 50th birthday. She has had an amazing stage career, and has many years to come.

Keep writing!

pilch62 said...

We just got back from Doubt, and it certainly lives up to all the praise that's been lavished on it. It's an exceptionally well-made play, nothing wasted, nothing extraneous. And Cherry Jones is every bit as good in this as she was in "The Heiress", which I saw in NYC many moons ago . . .

I agree 100%--go see this play!!

Jay, the Angry Little Man said...