Race and justice define ‘Doubt, A Parable’

Any time you have religion, sex and race in the mix of things, more than likely those recurring themes are going to get most people’s attention. When you blend the three social elements together, alongside with the search for justice, it can be a powder keg for a theatrical production.

So when International City Theatre Artistic Director Caryn Desai was faced with the task of putting together her list of stage plays for the 2016-2017 season, she went shopping for productions that centered around social issues.

In her shopping cart excursion to find the right type of plays for the International City Theatre (ICT) to showcase, Desai found the explosive Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Doubt, A Parable” along the way.

For those who were drawn to the intensity of “Doubt” on the big screen, starring acting powerhouses Amy Adams, Meryl Streep and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, the prevalent question of suspicion gives the stage play more fire.

This is the type of production that Desai wanted the ICT to display to its vast audience.

Eileen T’Kaye, Michael Polak and Erin Anne Willams Photo by Tracey Roman
Eileen T’Kaye, Michael Polak and Erin Anne Willams Photo by Tracey Roman

“It’s such a powerful and beautifully written play, which you would expect since it is a Pulitzer (Prize) and Tony Award winner,” Desai said in a phone interview. “I chose the season. This is the one that spoke to me the most. This is the one I really wanted to do. I am especially drawn to plays that have historical context and or is issue-oriented. It is both of those.”

Set amid the racial and political turbulence of the 1960s (1964), “Doubt, A Parable,” which was originally written by John Patrick Shanley, examines the raised suspicion a principal at a Catholic school has of a priest who she suspects of having an inappropriate relationship with a young black altar boy. As a result, “Doubt, A Parable” makes for a compelling and intellectual tug-o-war that is simply gripping.

This is why Desai cashed in on the play, which plays at the International City Theatre (330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802) through Sept. 11.

“The issue of justice doesn’t get old, and a rush to judgment,” Desai said. “The writer, John Patrick Shanley, writes a fascinating, riveting piece in the preface of his play, which the audience really doesn’t get to read or see. But he talks about conviction versus doubt. Conviction is so much easier and less work than doubt.”

International City Theatre Artistic Director Caryn Desai
International City Theatre Artistic Director Caryn Desai

In America, citizens live under the guise that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. In “Doubt, A Parable,” that is blown out of the water in a backward kind of way. The assumption of innocence is on Father Flynn (Michael Polak) to prove his innocence instead of the other way around. It is around this storyline that makes “Doubt, A Parable” a commendable examination of what audiences think might be right and what they perceive to be wrong.

“I think it’s a compelling story,” Desai. “Let’s face it, that’s what good theatre is about; it’s good storytelling. If the play is compelling already, then it’s just your job to make it come to life as well as you can and making it human.”

Desai knows a thing or two about what kind of productions make for good theater. She’s already pocketed NAACP and L.A. Ovation awards, among other accolades, for her work.

Among the many projects she has been involved in include “The Old Settler,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” and “Dinah Was.” So she knows what she’s doing in bringing to life theatrical works that will be in tune with her audiences.

“Doubt, A Parable,” however, is one of those projects that present a different type of challenge. Like any good stage shows, “Doubt, A Parable” is an intertwined combustible production that generates more questions than answers. Thought-provoking is something any production should be able to bring to the table, Desai said.

“I think good theater makes you question or better yourself and our shared humanity,” said Desai.

The intricate human interest plot of “Doubt, A Parable,” has shown its longevity value to thespians everywhere. The turnout for role auditions was so great for this stage run that Desai said she had to turn a lot of people away.

“I will tell you that we had an extraordinary turnout for this show,” Desai said. “We’re union, so the union requires you do an open call. At open call, you sit there for hours to meet the requirements so that anybody can come out and audition if they don’t get an appointment through an agent…and we had to turn people away because we saw so many people.

“Sometimes, you sit there and you see five or six (people). We saw more than ninety people, and we had to turn the rest away because we were out of time, and we had appointments. The play is so strong. The acting roles, the characters, are so strong.”

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