An upcoming Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild production raises more questions than it has answers.
“Doubt,” which opens Thursday at The Grand Theatre in Eau Claire, tells the story of a Catholic school principal, Sister Aloysius (played by Deb Brown), who is convinced that the priest, Father Flynn (played by Tim Carter), is having an inappropriate relationship with a young boy in 1964.
While the plot is fairly simple, director Arthur Grothe said it’s many other factors of the times that cause complications and doubts to be raised.
“You have a number of forces working outside the play that impact the dynamics within the play, not the least of which is the hierarchy within the church,” he said.
“The debate in the play becomes not just did he or did he not do this, but also questioning the structures of power, and who has the power at what point, and how does that (power) shift,” Grothe said.
The show will hopefully keep the audience guessing and spur some discussion, he said.
“Even in the play, they never quite get to actually making the accusation,” he said, noting there are times where Father Flynn has even helped the boy. “It’s all in the subtext and the subtlety.”
The play also remains topically relevant and raises questions that should still be debated today, cast members said.
“This play takes place in 1964 but it’s so relevant to today’s times,” said Rose Dolan-Neill, who plays Sister James. “There’s a lot of recent scandals in the priesthood and this kind of echoes what’s happening right now in our political landscape too.”
In a time where people are consistently fed fake news stories and false information across social media and the Internet, having conversations surrounding doubt, rumors and structures of power become increasingly important, Grothe said.
“I think it reminds us to really question what’s going on and question the story,” he said. “Hopefully it makes the audience question what is the truth of this matter and ... how will I deal with rumors, gossip, innuendo, things that are coming across my line of sight that I’m taking in.”
Both Grothe and Dolan-Neill commented on how cleverly crafted the show is.
“The characters are so well-written and so interesting and there’s so many facets, so many levels to each of these people,” said Dolan-Neill. “There’s really four unique personalities — powerhouses — up on that stage. That’s really what drew me as an actor to want to be in this show, just the wonderful challenge of getting to play someone that’s so well written. It’s a joy.”
Grothe said the four actors have really risen to the challenge of this show.
“It is very tight, very impactful and filled with subtlety and nuance,” Grothe said. “Fortunately in this case the actors have really jumped off the deep end in terms of diving right into that and embracing that complexity.”
Grothe, who also teaches at UW-Eau Claire, said the last shows he has directed have been comedic and farcical, with lots of movement and stage effects. This show — with its small cast and simple set — is a nice change from that.
“For me personally it’s nice and a challenge to come back to (a show where) we don’t have to do all that,” he said. “We don’t need people doing backflips. We don’t need people climbing on ropes. ... We can kind of embrace the simplicity.”
“Doubt,” written by John Patrick Shanley, won a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for best play in 2005.
A 2008 film version starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis was nominated for five Academy Awards and five Golden Globes.
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