Monday, May 22, 2006

PeaceBang Reviews "Doubt"

MotherBang and I saw John Patrick Shanley's magnificent play "Doubt" at the Walter Kerr Theatre in NYC last Thursday evening.

Here's a review of the cast we saw:

I had read the play a few months ago and was struck by its spare dialogue, its comfort with ambiguity, and the main character, Sister Aloysius (please, Mr. Producer, can I play this part somewhere someday?).

MotherBang and I loved it. Having already read it, I was prepared for some of the emotional revelations and particularly, for one incredibly disturbing scene between Sister Aloysius and the mother of a boy who may or may not have been molested by Father Flynn.

Dame Eileen Atkins is smashing in the role of Sr. Aloysius -- it was one of those commanding performances you'll never forget-- a master class in acting and in claiming the stage on behalf of a great character.
(A few others, in no particular order: Ian McKellen as Richard III; Charlie Janasz as Richard II at the Guthrie; Stephanie Mills in "The Wiz"; Dixie Carter as Maria Callas in "Master Class" ... care to add to the list?)

Jena Malone, known to most of you as a cute movie actress, was appallingly bad as the naive Sister James. According to the reviewer, she copied every detail of her performance from her predecessor, which is never a good idea (a lesson I learned in a very painful way by watching Lorna Luft mimic the every last bit of comic timing and vocal inflection of the marvelous Faith Prince as Miss Adelaide in the national tour of "Guys and Dolls"). Such aping of a previous, acclaimed performance is the sign of a very bad performer and worse yet, a very irresponsible director. I'm surprised that whoever was responsible for rehearsing Miss Malone allowed it. She is so bad that even the bridge-and-tunnel crowd up in the mezzanine with us was smirking behind their hands and punching each other.

Miss Jena Malone, this is for you:
(1) Get a vocal coach to help you learn how to use your voice on the stage. You're adorable in the movies, but your Broadway debut is a crime against the theatre.

(2) If you've stopped meeting regularly with your dialect coach for brush-ups, assuming that you've got Sister James' Bronx-tawk down, let me assure you that you have not. Between the strained quality of your weird, simpering yet strangely monotonal falsetto and the overdone dialect, you sound scarily like Marlon Brando in the final moments of "On the Waterfront," and not in a good way.
You could not have been a contendah.
(3) Creasing your brow and wringing your hands does not a convincing performance make. Although you do warm up a bit in your later scenes, your atrocious showing in that first all-important show-down between Sister James and Sister Aloysius almost kills the play within the first ten minutes. You should send Dame Atkins a very large bouquet of roses for being brilliant enough to save the scene from your total inability to deal with it, and thus save the entire show. Better yet than roses, ask for her help. She's a genius. Let her mentor you!
(4) Do you sing? Singing lessons might help you find some other colors in your voice, which remained on exactly the same note all night long. Would you like to attend the opera and hear arias sung on one note all night long? That's what it was like every time you opened your mouth. Maddening, my dear, simply maddening.

(5) Don't despair. You're very young and we believe in you. We loved you in "Saved" but if you're going to continue on the stage, you'll need to work harder at it. Best of luck.

To the rest of the cast, the lighting designer and Mr. Shanley, thanks for a provocative, upsetting, and wonderful night at the theatre. Not to mention some whizbang sermon material.


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