Lucky me… I have a friend who gets invited to the theater for reviewing purposes. I'm speaking of the forever-fabulous Michael Musto.
Musty (which is a nickname, not a descriptive) is so damned modest, he actually APOLOGIZES when he's JUST inviting you to a preview, as opposed to a full-out Broadway premier! As if I care! Sure, big splashy Broadway opening nights are fun, but only because there's lots of food and drink and the eventual nail-biting edge-of-your-seat moment when, after everyone is good and drunk, someone returns with the reviews:
VICTORY! DEFEAT! HAPPY! SAD! :) :(
As a consolation prize, because I was too late in requesting that I be Musto's armcandy for "Spamalot" (another pal had reserved about a year ahead for this), I was extended a choice of invites: Two revivals and "Doubt".
One revival was "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?". It would have been fun, primarily because it's such an extraordinary bitch-fest. Also, I love Kathleen Turner: Besides her fascinating acting and her fascinating accent(s), I once had the luck to be seated next to her at a Woman's Power Lunch, where she was so friendly and fun - as opposed to the time I was seated next to Kim Cattrall (what a nasty stone-cold Bitch!).
I was also interested in her co-star, Bill Irwin. Even though I've always found him to be rather annoying (not personally - I've never met HIM), my curiosity will forever stay peaked because of a long ago interview I did with Chris Farley, where Farley cited Irwin as HIS personal comic idol. That was the first I had ever heard of Irwin and, considering the source, it was quite a compliment and recommendation.
As for the other old play given new life, even though I love Jessica Lange (and Josh Lucas is SO adorable), I was more afraid of "The Glass Menagerie" then "Virginia Woolf". Williams' plays have a tendency to bring out the Ham in most actors. It certainly takes a strong actor to do Williams properly, but it takes an even stronger actor who's not cowed by and, therefore, doesn’t over-compensate for, the ghosts of Williams Past.
What really did it in for me was an unintentionally hilarious Williams redo I saw on London's West End (their Broadway). In this critically acclaimed hit production, the poor lead actor was trying so hard to be Brando and also be Southern (I think), his sudden and numerous accent breakdowns came off almost Tourette-ish. I had to keep pinching myself (literally) to keep from bursting into laughter. The British friends I was with couldn't tell the difference. Obviously, neither could the critics.
I chose "Doubt". Even though "Four Dogs and a Bone" left me unsatisfied (insert your own jokes here), I have a great deal of respect for John Patrick Shanley. I was also dying to see Cherry Jones perform on stage. In this era of Hollywood on Broadway (Please please PLEASE read the great piece John Heilpern wrote in the April 11, 2005 "New York Observer", which touched on this, and many other great points I heartily agree with), it has become somewhat difficult to find the top theatrical talent allowed to actually open and star in a major staged project. Economics (the cost of putting on a production+ the cost of publicizing +the cost of tickets) and the Charlotte d'Amboise Factor (low name recognition= low curiosity=low ticket sales) have made Broadway a bitch to the quick buck and safe casting. When you're spending around $100 on tickets, it takes a strong person to opt for the CHANCE of quality over the certainty of star-power. However, when you get in for free, it certainly allows one to take that leap of faith.
Which is what "Doubt" is ultimately about: Faith in truth when the truth is in doubt. The beauty of the play is that everyone fiercely believes in the morality of his or her point of view and actions. Unfortunately, that faith is shaken once the reactions that inevitably follow their actions (Physics 101) go into play. It's an interesting intellectual exercise and a timeless dilemma. It's why the legal system revolves around the element of degrees of doubt in DISPROVING one's innocence. It's why the English system of Law requires that one prove one's guilt, rather than one's innocence … beyond a reasonable DOUBT. How can you prove you DIDN'T do something, in most cases? A real philosophical head-scratcher, unless you're French, I guess (their legal system operates from the opposite assumption of the English: So what else is new…).
Cherry Jones was amazing as the self-righteous Sister Aloysius. What a treat! She made you love and fear her for her reasons and reasoning that were or weren't grounded in rational and careful assumptions. Brian F. Byrne (Father Flynn) was wonderful as the priest, whose loving and caring actions may have been innocent … or not. (Hello Michael Jackson!) And Heather Goldenhersh made a very believable young nun, whose own innocence may not be up to effectively judging that of another.
They all do a fine job of illuminating Shanley's open-ended discourse on the importance of the gray over the black and white inherent in TRUE intelligence. For many, having a point of view seems inconsistent with having an active and fluid mind: One that understands that continually entertaining other arguments and possibilities doesn't connote flakiness or being wishy-washy. Contrary to the popular saying, SOMETIMES because it acts, sounds, and looks like a duck, it just might NOT be a duck. And rigidity may APPEAR as strength, but might be, in most cases, merely ignorance shrouded by arrogance. Some are loathe to admit that an original conclusion was incorrect. Instead of welcoming ANYTHING into an argument that can best correctly solve a problem, they, instead, merely reject what they hadn't considered as a possibility, either out of laziness or the fear of being wrong. They equate new information as a personal insult, as a direct hit to their fragile self-esteem, as opposed to a tool for helping solve a problem. There is a need to tie the intellectual with the personal, where it shouldn't be a factor. Or, as another old saying goes, the operative word in "common sense" is "common": For better and worse.
In the end, if one lacks real FACTS, then whatever truth one accepts has to be colored and clouded by perception. This leaves one with the best theory…which is ALWAYS subject to doubt.
Sorry about that…
If there were any problems I had with "Doubt", it was with my initial impressions of Byrne and Goldenhersh. I knew I had seen both on various "Law & Order" episodes, so I, involuntarily, got lost in trying to remember who they played in what episodes.
Such is the albatross of being a New York stage actor: Job insecurity and relatively low pay (compared to those in movies) requires that you grab any gig you can. Not that "Law & Order", "C.S.I.", "The Sopranos" or any other TV fare of this caliber is of lesser quality than most of what is presented on the big screen or on stage. And I guess that the insecurity inherent in the acting profession never really subsides: How else to explain the need for even the Big Names to continue doing commercials? Except for greed and competitiveness…
The more glaring problem I had with Byrne and Goldenhersh were their accents. At least, I THINK they were accents. Actually, they both came off as having the same speech impediment as Elmer Fudd and Baba Wawa. I even thought that, perhaps, they were trying to sound like they were from Boston, so mangled was the pronunciation of any word with an "r" in it. However, according to the Playbill, the story takes place in the Bronx!
I'm flummoxed over this one. Even Musto, a native of Brooklyn, couldn't figure out this affectation (if it was one). Of course, if these two actors really speak this way, I'm really sorry for sounding insensitive. If Shanley wanted them to sound this way, I'd be interested to know why. Anyone with any answers can write me at email@example.com.
I know this review was all a bit (?) of self-indulgent brain vomiting on my part. Now that I’ve had my say, maybe you might be interested enough to check out "Doubt" and see what it stirs in you. We’d love to have you share with us your impressions in our Blog section.
"Doubt" is a worthwhile expenditure of your time and money: There usually IS a good reason why something wins a Pulitzer.