Friday, May 23, 2008

Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley

One of the factors that keeps people out of book discussion groups is choosing big books that require many hours to read. Some people will read portions and skim, but many will not, so attendance is low when the books are gigantic. There is no need to worry with the choice of Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley. The 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama is only 58 pages. It reads very quickly, yet my book group found plenty to discuss for an hour and a half.

Doubt has only four characters: two nuns, a priest, and the mother of a student at a Catholic school. The year is 1964, and Sister Aloysius is unhappy with the times. A shortage of nuns has required the school to hire some lay teachers. The students are unruly and unmotivated. Ballpoint pens are replacing fountain pens. She thinks the song "Frosty the Snowman" is offensive to the church. Most importantly, Sister does not like the charismatic priest whom she suspects of abusing students.

Shanley has written a play that works on many levels, making it very discussable. It is of current interest because of the recent revelations of abuse by clergy in many denominations. It can also be scene as a political parable. Short as it is, it made members of the discussion remember many other works that they had read and plays that they had seen. With one character believing something for which there is no evidence, reading Doubt confirms a theme in True Enough by Farhad Manjoo, which I recently read. The intrigue within a community of nuns reminds me of The Abbess of Crewe by Murial Spark.

Book groups looking for a worthy and marketable book should consider this gripping play.

Shanley, John Patrick. Doubt: A Parable. Theatre Communications Group, 2005. ISBN 1559362766


____Maggie said...

I saw this in New York City, a couple of weeks after it won various Tonys and was totally flabergasted (did I spell that right). It was performed in one of the tightest theatres off broadway and we were all hot and uncomfortable. That same feeling carried throughtout the play for one really didn't know what to think. I still cannot believe Brian F. O'Byrne didn't win a Tony for his part. I'll order it now!

Anonymous said...

I saw the play and was disappointed. There's nothing new here about this issue. We've already discussed this crisis more intelligently over the dinner table and by the water cooler in my neck of the woods.

I really didn't care whether the main character did it or not. A play that happens after a priest is found guilty or not would be more original.