John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt”

For an acting class, a friend of mine has been studying the role of Sister Aloysius in “Doubt.” While helping her learn her lines, I had to read over and over Father Flynn’s part in the penultimate scene, the play’s final confrontation between Flynn and Aloysius. For me, Flynn’s behavior in this scene conclusively establishes his guilt, but my friend came to the opposite conclusion.

Watching a play, we’ve only surfaces to judge from, as when watching a jury trial, that fundamental Anglo-Saxon institution. The prosecution tells a story. The defense tells a story. The jury decides between these stories according to what are, ultimately, aesthetic criteria – plausibility, consistency… the same factors according to which we believe or withhold belief when contemplating a work of art.

My verdict of guilty is based only on reading the text of “Doubt.” If I watched an actor performing the role of Flynn, I might well be led in a different direction. A single fleeting facial expression could well make all the difference. Bridgette Redman indeed has offered three different verdicts for three different performances of the play.

Like David Mamet’s “Oleanna,” “Doubt” is designed to leave the jury split, but “Oleanna” was intended to evoke a different response from men than from women. It’s less clear along what lines “Doubt” tends to divide people.
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