The mediums of story and drama throughout the centuries have been used to stimulate thought and generate conversation concerning the metanarratives that are revealed as one observes the performance. from William Shakespeare’s Othello, to Authur Miller’s The Crucible, and George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, some of the themes that are seen within these dramas stick with a person, and may cause them to ponder these themes days after they have watched them.
Such is the case with the drama titled Doubt: A Parable written by playwright and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley. John Patrick Shanley received his break with a play titled Danny and The Deep Blue Sea, which premiered in New York and in London in 1984. After a time he began to try his hand at writing screenplays for motion pictures and in 1987 received an Academy Award for best original screenplay for Moonstruck, which starred Cher in the leading role. In addition, John Patrick Shanley has worked on additional movie projects such as Joe Vs. The Volcano, Alive, and Congo (which was a novel written by acclaimed author Michael Crichton). After working on these projects he turned his attention back to writing plays for the theatre. He wrote several other plays in the late 90s, however, it was in the early to mid-2000s when the play Doubt: A Parable debuted, and ever since then the play has been met with high accolades and praise. Doubt: A Parable went on in 2005 to win a Tony Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and in 2008 was adapted into a motion picture with the same name, starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis who all were nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in this movie.
The story of Doubt: A Parable centers around four main characters: Father Flynn (a Roman Catholic Church priest), Sister Aloysius Beauvier (a nun and strict principal of the Roman Catholic School), Sister James (a nun and a young novice teacher), and Mrs. Miller (who is the mother of another character that is associated with the play by the name Donald Miller, who is never seen in the play). The main premise of the drama is centered on Sister Aloysius Beauvier and how she suspects Father Flynn of molesting Donald Miller, the Roman Catholic’s school first African-American student and investigating, along with Sister James, Father Flynn’s behavior. Throughout the main story, there are several metanarratives that are exposed throughout the play all culminating in the final scene with the confrontation between Sister Aloysius Beauvier and Father Flynn where she attempts to extract the truth.
John Patrick Shanley, in an interview in 2008, discussing his inspiration for the play said the following:
“[I felt] surrounded by a society that seemed very certain about a lot of things. Everyone had a very entrenched opinion, but there was no real exchange, and if someone were to say, ‘I don’t know,’ it was as if they would be put to death in the media coliseum. There was this mask of certainty in our society that I saw hardening to the point that it was developing a crack–and that crack was doubt. So I decided to write a play that celebrated the fact that you can never know anything for certain.”
Kennedy B (2015). Writer’s Theatre. From the Bronx to Broadway: John Patrick Shanley. Retrieved from https://www.writerstheatre.org/blog/bronx-broadway-john-patrick-shanley/
John Patrick Shanley brings out two important things that are highlighted in his play. First, he brings the audience face to face with issues that make society uncomfortable to discuss openly and honestly: racism, domestic violence, same-sex attraction, sexual and physical abuse are just some of the metanarratives that he covers in his complex work. However, what makes the play even more complicated is every character is working from the idea that they are doing what they do from the very best intentions, taking away the excuse from the audience that the way the characters are acting is just insensitive, or cold and calculated monsters. John Patrick Shanley pulls back the curtain and shows a corner in society that people often overlook, or people use their opinions to justify why it is not their problem, issue to solve or get involved with. Second, in the midst of these situations with these characters, he underscores the “certainty” of people in society, originating from what he calls “very entrenched opinion.” The “certainty” of individuals comes about by the person’s own limited point of view. The characters in the play, the situations they are involved in, and the surrounding themes in the play invite the audience to “doubt” their own perspective, and more importantly the source of their own perspective.
There are some similarities and differences between Doubt and the Scriptures. The Scriptures, much like John Patrick Shanley, brings us face to face with the dark side of humanity. The Scripture shows such things as murder (Gen. 4:1-8), rape and incest (2 Sam. 13:1-19), the marginalization of the downtrodden (c.f., Isa. 1:23), and many other atrocities. The Scriptures do not pull any punches concerning the human condition because one of the purposes of Scripture is to reveal how horrible and dark things are in this present world. Scripture, much like John Patrick Shanley’s play, does not give the reader room to turn away, dismiss, or ignore this reality. In one sense, God, through Scripture challenges one to “doubt” their own perception of reality.
Second, the Scriptures, much like John Patrick Shanley’s play, challenges mankind’s “very entrenched opinions” and the origins of these perspectives. It reveals people’s negative prejudices and the man-made traditions that people adhere to for their own safety and security. It reveals the veneer of the lies mankind tells itself and strips them bare of their limited and finite wisdom, and the foundation of this wisdom. Much like Shanley’s play, God through the Scriptures challenges mankind to “doubt” the cause of their own “entrenched opinions.”
However, there is a stark contrast to John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt and the Scriptures. The masterpiece written by Shanley challenges people’s perceptions, established opinions, and pleads with mankind to dialogue with one another concerning these controversial themes. However, God’s word challenges mankind to lay aside their inadequate ideas and perceptions and beckons one to be assured in His perspective (c.f., 2 Tim 3:16-17). While Shanley leaves the audience wondering, questioning, and conversing to seek out their own answers, God, through His word tells the believer to be transformed by being renewed by His answers so they know His desire (Rom. 12:1-2). While John Patrick Shanley leaves one to “doubt” their own limited opinions, and the source of those set opinions on how to address these various controversies, God by His word commands mankind to leave their insufficient opinions, the origins of them, and replace them with His truth, with God as the Source. Furthermore, God desires mankind to follow His word on how one is to address these injustices that are discussed within the play (c.f., Book of Proverbs). In short, God challenges mankind to “doubt” their limited outlook, and be convinced of His outlook, by His word.
For those who hold to a Biblical worldview, there is a silver lining to this play and the themes it contains. Where Doubt invites the viewers to examine and question everything one knows, the Scripture provides the answer to the cause of these controversies outlined in the play (Gen. 3:1-24), and the manner by which the body of Christ addresses these themes among one another, and others around the saints(c.f., Gal. 6:6-9). Doubt grants the believer the opportunity to discuss God’s perspective, and wrestle through these tough issues, and hopefully persuade others to possibly consider and even embrace the perspective of God, and His answers for these problems. This truly is the benefit of the Doubt.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!
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