Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Doubt - A Parable reviewed

“Doubt - A Parable” is one of those plays that does very well in the classroom and at a dinner parties in generating lively and passionate debate. I wonder what the play wright, John Patrick Shanley, is getting at by referring to his play as a “parable”. Is he being a bit ironic (a parable being a fable) considering the recent unfortunate (to say the least) history of the Catholic Church in relation to its priesthood and young boys. Are there allegories in Doubt that allude to religious doubt? What is the symbolism in the play? What is the hidden subtext or rather subtexts - it gets a bit busy in this play. What are the characters hiding? What does the play say about the Catholic Church, education in the 1960’s, sexual repression, homosexuality, innocence, bitterness, and pedophilia and racism? Oh my goodness there is just so much juicy material to work with under a civilized layer of the bland life of institutionalized religious education. I could go on and on but you would be stuck here reading for hours about the play and we would never touch on the Backstage production.
Brent Jenkins chose his play well. It is superbly written. The writer absolutely wants the audience to doubt. Every word that drips from that calculating pen is meant to leave you in doubt. The script is so very ingenious in this aspect of its presentation. I believe that Brent was true to the intention of John Shanley. Brent’s direction did not try and influence the audience. No mean feat. The slightest wrong footedness in direction would skewer the opinion of the audience and the work would become dishonest in its presentation.
If you watched the play with absolute honestly and an open mind (that most wonderful of things) you could not, in good conscience, choose between innocence and guilt. You may have had a leaning in one or another direction. But make no mistake, that leaning will have been very much influenced by your personal life experience. This is what John Patrick Shanley has to say about his work: “Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite – it is a passionate exercise. You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That’s the silence under the chatter of our time.” We do all have an opinion though don’t we, at the end? This says a great deal more about us, as the audience, than it does about the play.
As much as I thought that Brent Jenkins did an excellent job of not crossing the ever so tempting line of having his actors lean in one direction and influence the audience, I felt that the actors played their parts beautifully in this regard too.
Mike Green as the accused priest Father Flynn rises, as always, to the occasion. He takes on the skin of our unfortunate protagonist with conviction. His interpretation of the role was well judged and convincing. We know he is hiding something but what? We get insights into his character from his soliloquies. In one moment you think “Ahhh I know which way this is heading.” but instead you get turned in another direction with subtlety - doubt building on doubt. His characterization is honest and complicated. We see him coaching the boys and warm to him and then we see his subtlety misogynistic attitude to Sister Aloysius and his defensive manner when confronted and we bristle with suspicion and antagonism. He is warm and caring with the boys and utterly unbending towards Sister Aloysius.
The ridged unsympathetic character of Sister Aloysius was played well by Celia Cookson. I loved the way Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn never made eye contact. A risky move as eye contact creates tension on stage. In this production the lack of eye contact created a distance that showed the characters distrust and extreme dislike for each other. There were flashes of bitterness in Celia’s performance that were lovely to watch. I would have liked to see a bit more light and shade in her character but again this may have been a risky move in terms of the overall need to keep doubt in the audiences mind. Celia’s voice lacked depth but her expression and fiddling hand movements made up for this. Sister Aloysius is not a warm person and yet the audience roots for her. You feel so dreadfully sorry for her. She is a women who genuinely cares for her charges but you get annoyed and bristle at her way of doing absolutely everything. Her ridged, set ways, and suspicions nature, stomping out light and warmth in her quest to do the right thing in every situation regardless of the consequences. She is the most dangerous of people - a zealot. My major criticism of the presentation of Sister Aloysius character is that at the end of the play when she herself expresses her own doubt I was not convinced. Not by her performance but by the lack of a building of it leading to that moment. Again this is a very risky bit to pull off without sacrificing the intention of the play.
Ramya Bala played the young inexperienced Sister James. Ramya looks the part, all big eyes and youthfulness, displaying a quivery uncertainty. We see confusion from the get go but I did not see development from a simple, optimistic, young teacher to a teacher filled with doubt. The impression I got from Ramya’ s characterization was of fear rather than doubt and I would have liked Ramya to be a stronger voice in expressing doubt and giving voice to the audience’s conflict.
There is an added twist in the plot when we meet Mrs. Muller, beautifully played by Mylene Gomera as the mother of the boy Father Flynn is accused of molesting. Her pragmatic attitude is shocking and tragic and utterly believable. Mylene give depth to the character of the mother and painted a heart aching portrait of the boy that we never meet, Donald Muller. Her role introduces yet another element of doubt into the production with a great big dilemma. Was Father Flynn giving a confidential supportive ear to a boy who would be ostracized not only for the colour of his skin but also for his sexual orientation or was he taking advantage of those factors to act out his nefarious selfish ends?
Hurry and and wait and learn your lines.

Doubt could easily have been written as a two hander and been amazing to watch. By adding the two lesser roles the subject is given a voice and the plot a twist which makes us all the more doubtful. These characters also add depth to the social issues of the time. The 1960’s was a time were social reforms were sweeping across America. Attitudes were changing towards women’s rights, the black empowerment movement, ideas about doing things in the way that they had been accepted for generations were changing. All the fears that come with these events are woven into the story and seen by us, the audience, by the reactions to situations by the cast. Rather Flynn’s anger at Sister Aloysius for not following the protocols of Patriarchal hierarchy in resolving her conflict. Sister Aloysius distain for people who use a ball a point pen and her squashing of any fresh ideas out of Sister James are signs of fear of and resistance to change. The numbing attitude of Mrs. Muller who just wants her son to be able to grab the opportunity he has been given and get on with his life, fearing making any waves that might affect his ability to get further and fear of the reprisals of her husband against her son. It is a show laden with ideas.
From a practical point of view the show was a great success. I loved the set and the use of space on the stage. The costumes were great and chosen with care and attention to detail was given in putting them together.
The lighting, as always at this venue, is a bit problematic. I liked what was intended and having inspected where the lights were hanging and trying to figure out where else they could have been placed the crew did the very best that they could have done to get the effects they wanted. But I do have one complaint here. There were several ends of scenes where the fade outs were just too long. The audience needs to know that the end of the scene has come. Help them with this. Fade out quickly, don’t drag it out.
I liked the choice of music used in the production but the music played for far too long before anything got going after the lights had faded down. There is nothing wrong with fading music with the lights.
This must have been an exacting show to put together. You can never know for sure if you have achieved the purpose of the production until you have an audience. I think that Brent Jenkins and his cast pulled this off sensitively and elegantly.
At the end of the show we (the audience) were asked to “vote” if we thought Father Flynn was guilty or innocent. I would love to know how the audiences voted.

Stage Write 2014 - Summer Edition

Several weeks ago I said “Yes, yes, yes, I would love to judge Stage Write 2014” Jumping in with a yes despite the fact that I was a bit busy at the time. I could not resist. It would be such a treat to read a few plays, get an idea of what new talent was out there and revisit the work of play writes who had entered last year and see if I could recognise the writers work a year down the line. I looked at my schedule and thought "Yup I can do this". Ho Hum. I somehow did not factor into my calculations the small fact that a day is only 24 hours long and he do need to sleep for some of that.  Actually, I did not expect that I would be reading 32 plays. Seriously! Dubai playwrights are gluttons for punishment. Clearly this bunch did not realise how tough the brief was or (more likely and rather wonderfully) they are all up for a challenge.
For those of you who don't know, here is the low down. Interested writers attended a briefing at which they were given two randomly drawn character cards which would decide the two characteristics of their main character. Next they were given two equally randomly drawn situation cards which gave them the information they needed to lead the story. This year there was an added criteria – genre. The writers had to write in one of the following genres: Horror, Sci-Fi, Western, Historical, Fantasy or Crime Noir. They could choose. And then came the killer kicker: the play had to be written and submitted within 24 hours. No kidding! Snakes alive. What a challenge. I metaphorically tip my hat off to all of the participants.
Here are some numbers for you :51 teams signed up , 14 teams did what I would have done and thought "eek there is no way I am brave enough to do this," and  37 showed up for the draw. I picture a western ghost town with tumble weed and fear whirling about the street. Of the 37 teams, 32 submitted entries which met the competition rules. No mean feat let, me tell you. There were 3 judges, Liz Hadaway Kapur-Festival director of Short+Sweet Dubai, director, actor & teacher. Hananah Zaheer - Local actor & writer and I.
This year’s competition really separated the wheat from the chaff. My scores for the top plays were way ahead of the bulk of the middle, and the few weaker entries scored very low. I thought long and hard about how I would score. The judges had been given a criteria for scoring where we could score ten points for each of four areas. In an effort to make my scoring as objective as possible I then broke down my four categories into five sub categories and scored up to two points for each sub-category. Out of the whole forty points I allocated two points in two categories to my feelings about each script. The main reason for me being so persnickety is that I knew that there was no way I would be able to read all the plays in one sitting. I really did not want my judgement to change depending on my mood, level of alertness or desperate need to have a snack.....for example. I was a wonderfully fair judge, if I say so myself. By the way none of the judges had a clue as to the identity of the script writers they were reading.
This form of competition creates instant originality. The contestants are forced to dig deep and find inside themselves some creative wizardry to weave their stories around the sometimes wacky combination of character and situation cards that they are presented. From Mike Greens quirky, ironic and very funny crime nior to   Osman Aboubakr and Maha  Zeibak’s thoughtful  and ultimately tragic sci-fi I was impressed with how the writers stepped up and delivered great stories. Arjuns Burmans  time warping sci fi and Jordane Chedotal  eerie story had me caught up in a mental quickstep as I manoeuvred my way around their cunning plots both with slam dunk finishes. And lastly I found Charlie  Cunningham’s fantasy a delightful bit of frivolous fun.
Below is the overall judging.
1st          Place     -The Bronx Budgie Murder by Mike Green (Crime Noir)
2nd        Place     -The Ithaca Project by Arjun Burman (Sci-Fi)
3rd         Place     -The Consultant by Jordane Chedotal (Horror)
4th         Place     -Third Strike by Charlie Cunningham (Fantasy)
5th         Place     - Hypnosia by Osman Aboubakr & Maha Zeibak (Sci-Fi)
And here is mine.
1st          Place     -The Bronx Budgie Murder by Mike Green (Crime Noir)
tie 2nd   Place     -The Ithaca Project by Arjun Burman (Sci-Fi)
tie 2rd   Place     -The Consultant by Jordane Chedotal (Horror)
tie 4th   Place     -Maqbool by Ryan D’Sa (Fantasy)
tie 4th   Place     -Third Strike by Charlie Cunningham (Fantasy)
tie 4th   Place     - Hypnosia by Osman Aboubakr & Maha Zeibak (Sci-Fi)

Writer at work.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Backstage are putting on Doubt this week HURRRRY!!

Hello Drama Darlings in Dubai

I have been hounding the Backstage peeps to send me the blurb on their upcoming production "Doubt" so that I can share the info. The show starts on the 18th September so get your tickets sooner rather than later. If you have ever had a niggling feeling of doubt about something or someone, well this is the show for you. With a stellar cast and crew this is bound to be a sure fire winner with Dubai Audiences.

Get in on the act and get down to the Theatre.

Backstage is back with its season opener ‘Doubt- a Parable’. This Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning drama is all set to take the stage this weekend at Duactac, Mall of the Emirates on the 18th & 19th September at 7:30pm and the 20th at 2:30 & 7:30pm.

Set in a school in the Bronx, it centers on a nun who grows suspicious when a priest begins taking too much interest in the life of a student.

Focusing on themes like antagonist against protagonist, a person’s internal struggle and standing up for what is right, the play refreshingly brings back the basic concept of right against wrong seen previously in dramas like Reginald Rose’s ‘12 Angry Men’.

Life is made up of the choices that we make. Every choice we make has a domino effect. ‘Doubt’ is what is created in Sister Aloysius’s mind when she decides to follow her intuition.  This play, with conflicting viewpoints, written with a perfect mix of determination and detachment, by John Patrick Shanley is being directed by Brent Jenkins.

With Mike Green as ‘Father Flynn’, Celia Cookson as ‘Sister Aloysius’, Ramya Bala as ‘Sister James’ and Mylene Gomera as ‘Mrs. Muller’ this promises to be an unforgettable performance. Book your tickets now at timeout Dubai (www.timeouttickets.com) or for ticket reservations, please call the DUCTAC box office on 04-3414777.