Doubt - A Sermon Well SaidWednesday, September 17, 2008
Sursum corda (lift up your hearts) from the Catholic Mass.
As soon as the priest would utter the magic words ite, missa est which in Latin means "go the Mass is over", I was out of the church like a light ready to play with my friends on the street. I knew the ropes and I always managed to arrive late for Mass but I made sure I made it before the Ofertory began. This was considered to be the minimum requirement to satisfying the Catholic dictum of attending Holy Mass every Sunday. I knew all this because I was raised a Catholic. My grandmother said her Holy Rosary at least 10 times per day. And to top it all I was sent to a Catholic boarding high school in Austin, Texas for 4 years.
In my four years there I received the best education of my life. The Brothers of the Holy Cross that taught me, taught me well and from the heart (as Jonathon Young's Father Flynn says in Doubt, below). I have kept correspondence with my last, remaining and living teacher from that school, Brother Edwin Reggio CSC to this day.
It was with that skepticism that comes from having been served well by my Catholic church upbringing that I attended tonight the Arts Club Theatre play Doubt by John Patrick Shanley at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Doubt is a very Catholic play set at the St. Nicholas School and Church in the Bronx in 1964.
My fears were all unfounded. I should have known better. To begin with the play was fronted by two of the best actors in the business, Jonathon Young (Father Flynn) and Gabrielle Rose (Sister Aloysius). The other two actors, Sasa Brown (Sister James) and Michèle Lonsdale Smith (Mrs. Muller) were not in the least intimidated by the virtuso competition and did just fine. I was a bit surprised in the beginning to see the previously voluptuous Sasa Brown (as seen in my photograph here) appear in nun's habits!
The play opened with a sermon from the pulpit in which Jonathon Young's Father Flynn somehow made up for all those masses I almost missed. It felt comforting to be back in church again. He was the perfect priest. I am sure Young would make the perfect serial killer, too.
But then I don't think I know the real Jonathon Young at all. The Jonathon Young that has been in my studio a few times has always shown up in his latest role and has always refused to be anybody else. Here you see him as Trout Stanley from last year's terrific play, Trout Stanley for Ruby Slippers. I remember asking Young to lean a bit to his right for my photograph and he answered, "Alex, Trout Stanley would only lean to the left, "and he then did just that.
I had never really seen Gabrielle Rose (top, left) in a role (that makes Iago a rank amateur) where I disliked her until tonight. Don't get me wrong, she was superb. She just simply convinced me to dislike her and when all roles are reversed with the "innocent" Sister James of Sasa Brown and she breaks down in tears I felt all kinds of sympathy for her. It was the same with Young's Father Flynn who goes from complete self-control and self-confidence to almost begging on his knees that I knew that this play will be hard to top this year. The ending is subtle and I was left with an almost comforting sense of doubt. Had I been just a bit daring I might have asked the clerically collared gentleman who was sitting in front of me what he thought of it all.
But then I could be wrong (about the play being hard to top) as I will be attending the last performance of Bard on the Beach's Titus Andronicus directed by Young's wife Kim Collier on Friday. Since all of these fine directors (lncluding Rachel Ditor the director of Doubt whom I once asked exactly what was a dramaturge and she just smiled!) and actors seem to be home grown, it is nice to know that they are all in the family and a fine family it is.
Doubt runs until October 12