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What does a thriving drama company do when its old theater has been torn down and its new theater is still under construction? Writers Theatre, which is building a two-auditorium complex that’s scheduled to open early next year, has been putting on shows at various locations in Glencoe, the Chicago suburb that is its home. The latest of these, a revival of “Doubt,” John Patrick Shanley’s powerful and provocative 2004 play about a Roman Catholic priest who may or may not be a child molester, is a site-specific production that is being performed not in a conventional theater but on a temporary stage erected in the library of Glencoe Union Church. This is a brilliant conceit, all the more so for its improvised nature, and William Brown’s staging is as starkly believable as its you-are-there setting. I saw the original New York production of “Doubt” three times, once in a small off-Broadway house and twice after it moved to Broadway. It was thrilling, but this one is better.
The secret of the success of Mr. Brown’s version is the precisely gauged scale of the acting. Brían F. O’Byrne and Cherry Jones, who created the roles of Father Flynn, the charismatic priest, and Sister Aloysius, the hard-boiled nun who is resolved to bring him down, gave larger-than-life performances that were magnetic but—in the best possible sense of the word—the least little bit stagy. Steve Haggard and Karen Janes Woditsch, by contrast, give the impression of having wandered into the theater from the sanctuary downstairs: Mr. Haggard is not flashy (and therefore suspicious) but disarmingly affable, while Ms. Woditsch plays the implacable Sister Aloysius without the slightest trace of theatricality….
Mr. Shanley’s play is, if anything, more relevant now than it was 11 years ago. But its relevance is beside the point, for “Doubt” is not a mere tract for the times but a well-wrought play of the highest possible quality…
So you want to understand what’s become of Broadway? Consider the case of “An Act of God.” Directed by Joe Mantello, it’s based on “The Last Testament: A Memoir by God,” the best-selling 2011 book by David Javerbaum, the former head writer of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which in turn was based on @TheTweetOfGod, a snarky Twitter account with two million followers in which the Deity Himself, as channeled by Mr. Javerbaum, purports to hold forth on current events. That so microscopically slight a pseudo-play has made it to Broadway can in yet another turn be explained by the money-minting presence of Jim Parsons, star of “The Big Bang Theory,” who plays God. Here, as they say, endeth the lesson.
You’ll be somewhat more likely to laugh at God’s relentlessly unfunny jokes (“Yes, the Bible is 100% accurate—especially when thrown at close range”) if you already agree with everything that Mr. Javerbaum and/or his ex-boss think about everything. Otherwise, you’ll find them as predictable as a Quarter Pounder…
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To read my review of Doubt, go here.
To read my review of An Act of God, go here.
An interview with William Brown, the director of Writers Theatre’s revival of Doubt: