Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bad guys, part 2

In Measure for Measure, you have a pretty clear bad guy: Angelo. You can argue the level of his badness, the validity of his motivations, and even ultimate responsibility in the situation (a situation the Duke sets into motion because he’s too much of a wimp to enforce his own laws…), but clearly he’s meant to be the heavy of the piece.

In Doubt, well, things just aren’t so clear are they? (Spoiler alert: I’ll be talking about some key plot points in the play below though will be trying to be as evasive about them as possible. Still, if you’d rather not even have any clues as to what happens in the play, I’d STRONGLY suggest not reading further.)

First, consider the focus of Doubt: Sister Aloysius. (Still reading? Now’s the time to STOP if you want to remain clueless!) She tries to protect a student but in the process seems to devastate him. And, between what is happening at home and what happens at school, certainly sets him up with a lifetime need for intensive therapy. That’s certainly not good, is it? One could go even further and argue about whether she really is even motivated by such humanistic motives as protection. She seems more interested in rooting out and dispelling the cause of her suspicions; not necessarily bad but certainly a bit spiteful and one could even say obsessive. And in a play full of hints and allegations, she is the only one who actually admits to having lied. And she lies in an attempt to entrap. That’s not only sinful, that’s downright nasty, and if it was done by anyone in law enforcement, would be actionable. Along the way, she riles up the student’s mother, who clearly would rather not be riled, and sets a young teacher on edge, enlisting Sister James as an unwilling accessory in her campaign against Father Flynn. So is the good sister a bad guy? The ending seems to imply that she’s actually a bit of a victim. But is a victim of her own machinations worthy of our pity or our distain?

I actually think that it is possible and entirely valid to argue that Shanley goes too far in portraying Aloysius as going too far. I think it is fairly specific to this historic moment, in the years after all of the church abuse scandals, to have much sympathy for her at all. In a more trusting, less hypersensitive time, she could be dismissed as a bit of a loon with an overactive imagination. Armed with our current cynicism, we know (do we?) that she might very well have a basis for her suspicions.

It’s insinuated that Father Flynn could be a bad guy; Sister Aloysius sure seems to think he is. But in terms of cold hard facts, what do we have? Not much. A few paltry pieces of circumstantial evidence and many plausible explanations for each one. But isn’t that how the most insidious monsters work? Leaving nothing but the faintest of trails and damning their victims to a lifetime of self-incrimination and doubt.

A while back on the Barksdale Blog, Phil Whiteway took on the question of what Doubt is about. One thing that is masterful about the play (Shanley’s occasional dips into flippancy notwithstanding) is that it’s about exactly what it says it is. Doubt. The power of it, the vital importance of it, and in some situations, the insidiousness of it. Thanks to the Barksdale – I haven’t had so much to stew on since “Spinning into Butter.”


hoosier steve said...

I would not portray Sr. Aloysius as any more a "Bad Guy" than Fr. Flynn. The importance of the time period is that the Catholic Church is in the early stages of a massive change in the way things are done. The Sisters are powerless. They are not able to go to the authorities, they are not even able to go outside of the rigid power structure of the church and upset the chain of command.
Sr. Aloysius is doing what she feels is best for a student in her school. She is protecting her children in the only way she can. Yes she lies, but again, she has no other choice.
This in only one of the many reasons I love this play. I only wish I could see this production, one of my favorite directors, and such a talented cast.

Anonymous said...

Not to change topics, but here is AGL's 25th anniversary season if anyone is interested in coming to LexVegas...


ps. The season was to include Doubt but I stupidly scheduled it after the movie comes out in December so I decided not to have to face comparisons between Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, so I missed my window to direct it. I love the play, hope it does well (with Kerry and that cast, how can it not) and I am glad Barksdale is producing it.

For me the notion of good guys vs bad guys is summed up nicely in the title and it is painfully relevant in our world where our commander in chief sees the world it stark contrasts of good vs evil without being willing to understand complexity and ambiguity...I'd love to direct it one of these days...c'est la vie!!


Dave T said...

Whoa, Rick, that's a pretty heavy-duty line-up: The Pillowman followed by The Fantasticks and then Rabbit Hole! People will hardly notice the darker aspects of The Fantasticks sandwiched between those two!

Thespis' Little Helper said...

That is quite a season. Pillowman is my recent read that I wish I hadn't started, but couldn't put down once I had picked it up. In a word: disturbing.

I directed a really incredible staged reading of Rabbit Hole at Firehouse in the fall. Wait...I can justify using the word incredible, I promise: with a cast of Jennifer Massey, John Moon, Jacob Pennington, Erin Thomas, and Jacob Pennington. (See, I told ya.) AND I got to share my incredibly funny story about meeting David Lindsay-Abaire with the cast (one of my fave theatre stories...but for another time).

I really hope that Richmond audiences get to see a full production of that piece next season.

The Fantasticks; I wish we got to see more solid productions of. Seems that it's become great fare for community theatres and schools, but is rather neglected in the professional realm. Very cool.


Scott Wichmann said...

Damn, Baron Von Rick-- I like how you roll. What an amazing season. Dave, Not to change topics either, but I have do have news on the 'bad guy' front. Call it 'Bad Guys, Part Three.' I think it is a welcome addition to this particular conversation. A major seaon announcement about a cool prject at Henley Street Theatre in the fall. go to my blog to read more. Now back to your regularly-scheduled discussion...

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Irene's gonna smack me.

I left Irene Ziegler out of the Rabbit Hole cast list, who played Nat, which was supposed to be my double tie-in.

I'm sorry Irene!