Thursday, April 3, 2008

Doubt: Did he do it?

The question that everyone asks after a production of Doubt is: "Did he do it? Was Father Flynn guilty of abusing a child in his care?"

It's a fascinating question in no small part because playwright Patrick Shanley doesn't provide easy answers. In fact, he's never given an answer as to whether he thinks the priest is guilty or not. Instead, he leaves it in the hands of audience, directors, and actors.

Today, Don Calamia of Between the Lines and I are going to reveal whether we thought the priest was guilty in each of the productions.

I came back with three verdicts: Guilty, deadlocked jury, and not guilty.

The BoarsHead Father Flynn was guilty. Nancy Elizabeth Kammer's Sister Aloysius wasn't at all likeable, but it was clear that neither did she tolerate sentimentality in anyone--including herself. She was unlikeable and intolerant, but she had a sharp eye and she didn't indulge in the redress of wrongs for her own personal agendas. Likewise, Michael Joseph Mitchell's Father Flynn had something sly about him. He did not have the candor or honesty that you would expect from someone in his position. He was eager to please and needed validation--whether that be from a young nun or a young boy. His reaction to the news that Sister Aloysius had called his previous parish was as much of a confession as was needed.

As for the Detroit Repertory's Father Flynn, I still have doubts. Were I judge, I would probably accept a plea bargain on a lesser charge. I do think his relationship with Donald went beyond what he claimed, but I'm not convinced that it crossed the line into abuse. Rather, I might argue that he was doing something that was not morally wrong, but would have been condemned by the church he was working for. Mrs. Muller tells us that Donald is gay. Ray Schultz' Father Flynn also appeared to be gay. The subtext of the play sometimes seemed to be that Father Flynn had taken on a mentoring role to the student that he would have had difficulty defending to his superiors, even though it was beneficial to the child.

At Performance Network, I believed the priest. I've since questioned why I believed him. Is it because he was the most blatantly heterosexual? Or was it because of the way he defended himself, fighting back by pulling rank on the sister and keeping thorough notes that he could use to defend himself. The thing is, both of those elements could also point to his guilt. After all, the abuse of children is rarely about sex, it's about power, and Jon Bennett's Father Flynn did not hesitate to wield his masculine power, reminding Sister Aloysius that she--a nun--had no right to question him--a priest. Likewise, the speed at which he began building a defense for himself might show that he recognized the need to defend what he knew he did wrong.

However, he also managed to convince me that he wanted what was truly best for the boy and for the school. His breakdown at the end seemed to be not just because of the personal loss, but because of the loss of his work.

All right, so the more I write about this, the more I'm convincing myself that my gut reaction is wrong and that Bennett's Flynn was indeed guilty. It's the wonderful thing about blog writing--that it can be a process of discovery.

So, Performance Network: guilty or not guilty? I'm now leaning toward guilty.

What did Don think? You can find out by clicking on the linky thing here and reading his Confessions of a Cranky Critic.

Would you care to join the two of us for a live chat about Doubt tomorrow during lunch? If so, drop us an e-mail or leave a comment and we'll send you a link.


scp said...

I watched the film version and the film leads the audience to believe that yes, he did do it.
It would be interesting to see read an interview with Phillip Seymour HOffman to see how he played Father Flynn.

PatricktheRogue said...

I didn't get the idea that Hoffman's priest was guilty. In post-filming interviews, he says he decided it one or the other before the filming, but only he and the director know how he played him. He does say that, if we think he is acting guilty, we should keep in mind that Streep's character says she has delved into his past; there could be something in his poast he does wish to hide that might not have anything to do with sexual abuse, but that that, nevertheless, he would want to conceal. So he might be leaving for other reasons than being guilty. Thus, we have the title.

Anonymous said...

He did do it and i'll tell you why. If the ending wasn't confirmation enough, it was Jeffrey London's subtle smile when Father Flynn was saying his goodbyes at the church.
Remember Meryl Streeps character said that the boy flinched when Father Flynn pulled his arm. And that was enough.

Hector Nuñez said...

what I find extremely interesting is that the author, J.P. Shanley, also directed the movie, and it seems as if the movie moved in the direction of having Flynn look guilty. However, in today's society, we have forgotten that there are people who genuinely care about their beliefs, their faith and the church. He could have cared so much about the aforementioned that he would have sacrificed his position to spare the church and the school from the shame of blatant accusations.