First read-through of Doubt just finished. The four actors sat at a table and read through the play, the stage manager read stage directions, and the GSP staff and Doubt creative team sat back and listened. And responded—with laughter, gasps, and at the end, much applause.
Before the read-through began, the staff had the opportunity to meet the actors, designers, and director, take a first look at a model of the set, and nosh (there were some particularly fantastic fudgy brownies). Three of the four actors are GSP newcomers. The fourth, Meghan Andrews, revealed that, sixteen years ago, when she was only a child, she appeared at the Playhouse. This revelation led Properties Master Jay Duckworth, who was here at the time, but hadn’t recognized Andrews, to shout, “Oh my God! I had hair then!”
What you get at the first read-through is a group of actors feeling their way through new and complicated material. They’ve read the play, they’ve probably done some research, but most of their questions are unanswered; many of the questions haven’t even been formulated.
But what the first read-through lacks in polish, it makes up for rawness and freshness—intelligent actors hearing themselves together, sensing the relationships, for the first time, which makes for a very exciting experience. It’s not usually an all-out performance—the actors aren’t asked to be emoting at performance-level—so I’ll refrain from discussing the performers in detail. But every compact, intense, and funny scene, was filled with the chemistry the actors brought. Let me just say, this show has been very well-cast, and I look forward to seeing them perform this material many more times.
Doubt centers not only on the titular concept, but also more tangibly, on the question of a man’s guilt. It was hard not to leave the reading discussing the ‘did he/didn’t he’ debate. In the Broadway production, the only actor who knew the answer to this was Brian F. O’Byrne, who played Father Flynn, the party in question. Our Father Flynn, Dylan Chalfy, will have to decide with director Anders Cato what exactly his character has done. While the audience can (and probably should) be in doubt, the actor has to make a choice. As productions crop up across the nation (and Doubt, having concluded its national tour, is now being performed at regional theaters around the country), the possibilities will become endless.
When I saw Doubt on Broadway, I admired it, although I didn’t get the hype. It’s short, and I left feeling less than full. As a parable, it paints in quick, broad strokes, and I left wanting more. Seeing it again, I had to reevaluate. The play is written with a sparseness that forces the audience to fill in the gaps. One of the most complicated characters appears for a single scene. Many meaty arguments occur onstage, but one can imagine just as much drama occurring in between the scenes.
Good comedies can make you feel light, refreshed. Good musicals can fill your head and your whole body with song in a way that is both overwhelming and invigorating. But great dramas leave you feeling out of breath, dazed, tingly—like you just saw a ghost, and sat with it for a couple of hours while it told you shocking tales. That’s what I felt walking out of today’s read-through. With Anders Cato (a gifted, on-the-rise talent who directed GSP’s Souvenir and I Am My Own Wife) at the helm, it’s surely just going to get better.
posted by Jeremy Stoller, Literary Apprentice