Although John Patrick Shanley is not a household name, chances are you know his work.
Since 1982, Shanley has had 24 of his plays produced on and off Broadway. He's written nine screenplays, one Emmy-winning TV movie and directed two films. His critical hits include "Savage in Limbo," "Moonstruck," "Live From Baghdad," and "Doubt."
The misses (although most fared well at the box office) are "Congo," "The January Man," and the infamous "Joe Versus the Volcano." Shanley grew up in an Irish Catholic family in the Bronx, where many of his tales are set. He was the son of a telephone-operator mother and a meat-packer father.
Building suspense in the play, “Doubt: A Parable,” are actors Kristin Jones as Sister James (from left), Michael Franco as Father Flynn and Carla Pew as Sister Aloysius.
Perhaps tellingly, he was thrown out of St. Helene Catholic kindergarten, later banned from the St. Anthony Junior High hot-lunch program and eventually expelled from Cardinal Spellman High School.
After that, Shanley joined the United States Marines. For years, he had a one hit-wonder stigma placed upon him. Shanley burst upon the scene with an Oscar win at the age of 37 for his first film "Moonstruck," but never quite reached that level of importance again until he returned with a vengeance 17 years later with the powerful drama, "Doubt: A Parable." The original Broadway production won Shanley a Drama Desk Award, a Tony and Pulitzer Prize in 2005.
In 2008, he directed the film version starring Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, which received four Academy Award nominations. Shanley dedicated "Doubt" to Sister Margaret McEntee, his first-grade teacher, whom he modeled the character of Sister James after. McEntee also served as a technical adviser on the film.
I interviewed Maui actress Carla Pew, who will play Sister Aloysius, last week to ask her about the powerful production and the major role she is undertaking.
"Given that I am new to Maui theater, I feel very fortunate that Kristi Scott and Jonathan Lehman have trusted me with this role. In fact, all four of the actors in this play are new to the Maui theater community, which is great," said Pew. The retired California State University administrator has not performed on stage for 25 years, "I would never have imagined that my first role after all these years would be a character as interesting and challenging as Sister Aloysius."
I asked if she had a Catholic background and Pew offered, "No, far from it. I was raised in a strict Southern Baptist household. My husband, on the other hand, went to Catholic schools all the way through college. So, he has told me some stories about his experiences with the nuns, including Sister Mary Tarantula, as the students in his 4th grade class called their teacher."
The story is set in 1964, at St. Nicholas School in the Bronx. A charming young Priest, Father Flynn, emboldened by Vatican II changes, attempts to reform the school's strict traditions, fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier. As the school principal, she believes in the power of fear and discipline.
The 1960s climate of change ushers in the school's first black student, Donald Muller.
Sister James, a hopeful new teacher, then informs Sister Aloysius of her guilty suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, and Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth and remove the priest from her school.
"Doubt," at its heart, is Sister Aloysius' journey, without a shred of proof besides her moral certainty, to win a battle of wills chess match with Father Flynn despite the possibility of irrevocable consequences. I asked Pew to compare the two philosophies and her personal feeling towards the characters.
"At first glance, Sister Aloysius seems so rigid, stern and judgmental. She is a fierce defender against what she sees as evil. I admire her strength of character; she is fighting against not only what she believes to be wrong, but having to do it within the strict limitations and structure of the Catholic church.
She is a strong woman in a community where women are supposed to be quiet, subservient, obedient and accepting. Sister Aloysius is none of these things. Father Flynn is the antithesis to Sister Aloysius. He exudes the warmth and friendliness that she doesn't have or understand. She believes him to be a danger to the children she is charged to protect. Since I am playing Sister Aloysius, I must see Father Flynn through her eyes."
The three other "newcomers" joining Pew are, Kristin Jones as Sister James, Kisha Milling as Mrs. Muller (Donald does not appear in the stage version) and Michael Lanzo as Father Flynn. Costumes are by Marsha Kelly with scenery by Caro Walker, and lighting by Bonnie Prucha. I asked Pew what she would tell a prospective patron that might find "Doubt" is too heavy or too controversial. "The subject of child abuse in the Catholic church most certainly is hard to think about, but the play is so much more. It asks the audience to evaluate their own belief systems, how they judge what is right and wrong, how they determine who is telling the truth. Is Father Flynn one of those priests? The audience must make that decision. It will definitely give you something to talk about on the way home!"
* The ProArts production of "Doubt: A Parable" by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Kristi Scott opens on Friday Sept. 28 with performances at 7:30 p..m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 14 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Reserved seating tickets are $20. Ask about the $15 Kama'aina nights on Saturday, Sept. 29 and Thursdays Oct. 4 and 11 with valid Hawaii ID. "Doubt" is 90 minutes with no intermission and recommended for mature audiences. For reservations or more information call 463-6550 or visit the web site at proartspacific.com.
Don't miss "Re-Unite!" the gala opening performance of Seabury Hall's new A'ali'ikuhonua Creative Arts Center at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday Sept. 28 and 29 at Seabury Hall in Makawao. The tickets are $25 for adults, $20 seniors and students, includes complimentary desserts and beverages. For more information or reservations call 573-1257.
Maui OnStage presents London's longest running comedy, "Run For Your Wife," by Ray Cooney, directed by Dale Button. London cab-driver John Smith has two wives and a very precise schedule for juggling them both. When Smith is ends up in hospital, both wives report him missing, causing two police investigations and leaving Smith hopelessly entangled in his attempts to explain himself to his wives and two suspicious police officers. The Maui production stars John Messersmith, Gina Shure, Hadley Garcia and Jeff Brackett. "Run For Your Wife," opens Oct. 5 with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays through Oct. 14 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Reserved seats are $15 to $28. Dinner packages available with Bistro Casanova. For tickets, call 242-6969 or purchase online at mauionstage.com.
Maui OnStage will be holding auditions for "The Wizard of Oz" from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26 and Thursday, Sept. 27 at its rehearsal studio space.
Youngsters ages 6 through 15 are welcome to audition for roles of Munchkins, Flying Monkeys and Ozmites or they may come in person on Wednesday, Sept. 26 by appointment.
Adults or those auditioning for Dorothy (must be 12 or older) may schedule an appointment for Thursday, Sept. 27. "The Wizard of Oz" will be directed by Alexia Dascoulias. Rehearsals begin the second week in October with performances Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 23 through December 9. Call 244-8680 ext 23.
MAPA announces three Fall break performing arts camps. Five days of performing arts fun, Monday, Oct. 1 though Friday, Oct. 5. Ricky Pavao Jones will teach the Drama Camp for children age 5 to 9. The kids learn how to use body, voice and imagination to play drama games and create characters.
Rebecca Owen instructs the Dance Camp for children age 6 to 10 in ballet, tap, hip hop, memorization, flexibility, coordination and teamwork. Katie Higuchi will conduct the Princess Dance Camp for age 3 to 5, where students can be a princess for a week and learn the basics of ballet through movement, games, and crafts and celebrate a different fairy tale princess each day.
No previous experience necessary. Classes are held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the cost is $195 per student, $125 for Princess Dance Camp. To reserve your child's spot, you may contact the MAPA offices at 244-8760.
Details, applications and regulations for the 3rd annual Maui Fringe Festival are now available at the Maui OnStage website. One act plays of 60 minutes or less may now be submitted for the three day theater marathon to be held February 1 through 3, 2013 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku.
Writers of all experience levels are encouraged to submit their original performance pieces. New additions to this year's festival include one night only rentals and Kama'aina discounts. Submissions will be considered until December 7 and the winning entries will be announced on December 21. To submit online visit mauionstage.com.