The Pulitzer-winning play “Doubt: A Parable,” by John Patrick Shanley, is timely and pertinent for Inland Northwest audiences: It’s about a priest accused of sexually abusing a student.
“Doubt” explores many thorny moral questions, including the thorniest question of all: What if the priest didn’t do it?
So when the Actors Repertory Theatre met a sudden death about a year ago, the area’s first production of “Doubt” died as well, in mid-rehearsal. Both ticket-holders and actors were left stranded.
“As an actor, I felt bereft on behalf of the actors,” said Reed McColm, artistic director of Interplayers Professional Theatre. “They were robbed and Spokane was robbed (of the experience).”
So McColm called original director Roger Welch and the original cast members and asked if they would revive the production for Interplayers. Welch and several cast members gave an enthusiastic yes.
“Their response made me kind of emotional,” said McColm. “I was grateful.”
After a year of “Doubt”-related doubt, the result is a new production opening this weekend at Interplayers. Welch directs a cast that includes original cast members Aaron Murphy, from the Bay Area, who plays the priest, and Rebecca Davis, from Seattle, playing the student’s mother.
To replace two cast members who had conflicts, McColm cast new actors: Ann Russell Whiteman as Sister Aloysius, the school’s principal, and Bethany Hart as Sister James.
Welch couldn’t be happier with the way it all worked out.
“I just have such an affinity for this piece,” said Welch. “It’s very smartly written. The economy of words that Shanley uses is quite profound. There’s no wasted fluff.”
And then, of course, there’s the theme. He said that if he and the cast members do their jobs correctly, audiences will be left not with a tidy, wrapped-up ending but with … well, doubt.
“The way I describe it – and the way Shanley describes it – is that this is like a one-act play of an hour and 25 minutes with no intermission,” said Welch. “The second act comes when you get in your car or go out and get food, and discuss what happened and reach your own conclusion.”
Welch said the stage version is more adept at this than the 2008 movie version, which starred Meryl Streep and came out between his first attempt at staging “Doubt” and this one.
“There were some amazing performances in the movie, but it kind of spoon-fed you and manipulated you in a way the play doesn’t do,” he said. “The play is, to me, so much more interesting.”
The evidence against the priest consists of lot of secondhand knowledge and conflicting testimony. Everyone in the audience has to decide how much credence to give it.
Because of the many complicated questions raised by “Doubt,” Interplayers has expanded its post-play “talk-back” sessions to two.
Those sessions will take place on Wednesday and Nov. 4. The full cast will be present after the show, and so will two Catholic priests, to address any questions or issues that come up.