14. A play: Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley
List Progress: 24/25
Trigger warning for child abuse.
As I’ve been working more and more as a playwright over the last year, I feel like my perspective towards reading plays has changed. I no longer read them the same way as I would novels, but spend more of my time wondering how it would appear on stage, what an actor could bring to the table and how the pacing would work to see it all in one sitting. This especially comes to mind with this show, Doubt: A Parable, by John Patrick Shanley. The script is strong, but I would say this is absolutely an actor’s play, the script forming the bones for a strong performance to be built around. Because if you didn’t have strong actors in these four roles, this play could be a slog to sit through.
Almost all of Doubt is private conversations, interspersed with the occasional sermon delivered to the audience. Set in 1964 Brooklyn, the play takes place at a strict traditional Catholic school. The principal, a very, very traditionalist nun, comes to suspect that the more liberal-minded and approachable priest has started molesting one of the boys, the school’s first ever black student. A younger nun who is caught between the two and the boy’s mother round out the entire cast, and each role is incredibly rich and leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Interpretation, and the titular “doubt”, are the main themes of the play as a whole, navigating an emotionally fraught situation with complications from all sides and no clear answers. At one point the younger nun asks the priest why he uses made up stories as parables in his sermons, rather than drawing truth and meaning from real events. He answers that fiction can have a more clear meaning and message, since real life is so rarely narratively satisfying and conclusive. And for a show with so many question marks, Doubt is very satisfying. I would love to see it on stage at some point, though I hesitate about the 2008 film adaptation, as the sparseness of the script works so well and could be cluttered with a full movie context. But I am intrigued to see and try and keep wondering, which means this play very much succeeded for me.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.