Thoughts on Sister Aloysius and DOUBT: A PARABLE

Giannarelli Aloysius

Laura Giannarelli recently talked to QTC about playing the role of Sister Aloysius in DOUBT: A PARABLE. She previously worked with QTC as the director of A LESSON FROM ALOES, and FAITH HEALER.

I played this wonderful role in 2008 under the direction of the terrific Vinny Lancisi at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore – with Clinton Brandhagen as my Father Flynn, Dawn Ursula as Mrs. Muller and Katy Carkuff as Sister James.

I have lovely memories of that experience, of playing with such wonderful actors on such a delicately balanced script.  But I think what has stayed with me over time is the reactions of audience members to the show.  Almost like a Rorschach inkblot, people interpreted the play based on their own experiences.

Baltimore is still a city with a large Catholic population, so many audience members came to the show with memories of direct experiences they’d had as children in Catholic schools, being taught by nuns.

I never take long to change back into my ‘civvies’ after a performance, so I often emerged from backstage while people were still milling about the lobby; often people would stop me to share their thoughts.  Some said right up front – “You were awful.  Just like those mean nuns I had as a kid.”  “I hated nuns like that.”  Others empathized with Sister Aloysius and felt sure the priest had been abusing that child and she had done her utmost to protect him; they felt Sister was heroic and valiant.  There was very little middle ground — they either loved her or loathed her.  And yet all of them had seen the same performance.  I didn’t do anything different.  They just saw it differently, through the lens of their own experiences.

We also did several school shows during the run, always with talk-backs afterward.  Once, we had an audience of middle schoolers.  I thought they would hate Sister Aloysius and jeer audibly at me.  Instead, they were quiet as mice, listening in that opening scene between Sister Aloysius and Sister James about working in the classroom with the children and keeping control.  It was like they were being let in on the secrets teachers talk about in the mysterious teachers’ lounge!

And after the show, they had the most questions, not for me but for Dawn Ursula, who played the child’s mother.  They wanted to know why on earth she didn’t remove the child from the school; they clearly identified with the child and felt his mom wasn’t protecting him.  (And unlike many adults, most of them were pretty certain that Father Flynn had abused him.)  Dawn explained with great empathy that Mrs. Muller was making the choice – to further her son’s education at all costs – that she thought was best.

Ultimately, DOUBT means to an audience whatever they choose to decide it means.  That is my favorite thing about the script.  The playwright doesn’t tell us what happened, nor what we should think.  It’s up to each audience member to interpret the play in his/her own way.  Beautiful!

 “Laura Giannarelli really gets into the habit as Sister Aloysius, making it easy to believe that everybody trembles in her presence.” Mike Giuliano , Baltimore Messenger 

“…Laura Giannarelli brings her own intellectually solid interpretation of the role to life”Brad Hathaway, Potomac Stages

“Laura Giannarelli was the perfect stern nun as Sister Aloysius. One half-expected her to storm out into the audience and admonish someone for not sitting up straight… Perhaps it is not difficult to portray a cold, almost emotionless figure who is wrapped up in a habit. But Giannarelli did an excellent job nonetheless.”John Kernan, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter

NIGHT SEASONS by Horton Foote – July 14 – August 13, 2017

Night Seasons

The play is framed by the occasion of Josie’s 93rd birthday, on which the old woman, who has outlived her husband and daughter, begins to realize that her longevity may be her punishment…

Night Seasons is an examination of the quietly destructive effects of a life defined by bank balances.  (Daughter) Laura Lee is shown as an unwilling but passive prisoner of this sensibility, who watched as her mother, father and ambitious brother sabotaged her chances for independence. Suitors were dismissed as financially undesirable and, in her 30’s, she was still living with her parents in rented hotel rooms and, later, an apartment, while pining for a home of her own.

–Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Featuring many Quotidian favorites and directed by Jack Sbarbori. Stay tuned for more details! [NOTE: Night Seasons replaces our previously advertised Foote show, The Habitation of Dragons.]

Night Seasons is made possible in part due to a generous donation from The Phase Foundation and Joan Hekimian.

Acting Backwards by Elliott Kashner

elliott-kashner-headshotQuotidian Theatre welcomes Elliott Kashner, who will be playing the charismatic Father Flynn in QTC’s upcoming production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable. Even though rehearsals have not yet begun, Elliott was asked to provide a few thoughts on his approach to taking on the enigmatic character.

“Brian O’Byrne and Cherry Jones used to joke about competing for the audience’s allegiances during their run in Doubt: A Parable. O’Byrne and Jones played Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, the two characters whose conflict is the central focus of the play. The two ultimately compromised, estimating that they each probably had convinced roughly half of those who saw the show, with a handful in the middle who were uncertain. The good-natured ribbing between these two titans of theater revealed the delicate balancing act that is at the heart of performing Doubt. The title isn’t just a less-than-subtle hint at what the play’s theme might be; it is a directive for the actors.

“Flynn advocates for his own innocence throughout the play against Aloysius’ dogged pursuit of proving his guilt. The resulting effect of playing Flynn – and playing against him – must land somewhere between guilt and innocence. That means that the actor playing Flynn must start from viewing the character from the audience’s perspective, anticipate how that audience may perceive Flynn, and then work backward to make choices toward that effect. This is a bit different from how actors may approach acting in the world of realism. Acting realism tends to be a process of analyzing the text, making decisions about the character, playing those choices truthfully, and allowing audiences to draw their own conclusions. For Doubt, making Flynn appear neither wholly guilty or innocent places specific requirements on the character choices. Fortunately, the script gives the actor both a great deal of information about Flynn’s history and a variety of tools to obfuscate that history.

“Author John Patrick Shanley is rumored to have revealed the true backstory of Flynn to only two people: Brian O ‘Byrne and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who played Flynn in the film adaptation. (Note: I do not recommend watching the film prior to seeing the play. Although the script was adapted for the screen by Shanley himself, the film makes several choices that may unduly bias your viewing of the play.) Knowing Shanley’s version of Flynn’s backstory may be more of a hindrance than a help. Rather than communicating that backstory, the actor’s job in this play is to hide it.

“But what about the second half of the title: A Parable. Why? Well, as Father Flynn says, “You make up little stories to illustrate. In the tradition of the parable… What actually happens in life is beyond interpretation.””

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Stevie Zimmerman to Direct QTC Production of Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable

steviezQTC welcomes Stevie Zimmerman who will direct John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable opening on 7 April and playing weekends through 7 May.

Originally from London, England, Stevie received a B.A. at Oxford University and an M.A. in Directing from the University of Leeds. Stevie has lived in the U.S. since 1993, and in the D.C. area for 6 years.

Before moving to the D.C. area, Stevie lived in Connecticut, where she was an Associate Professor of Drama from 1999 to 2010 at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music and Theatre. During this time, she also worked regularly with the Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, where she directed Collected Stories, Love Letters, Driving Miss Daisy, and, in 2016, Margaret Edson’s Wit.

After relocating to D.C., Stevie directed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s By Jeeves at 1st Stage. Glowing reviews, such as “Heroic performances bespeak a heroic director; this one is Stevie Zimmerman, prompted 1st Stage to invite Stevie to return to direct the area premiere of Billy Elliott writer Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters.

For Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions, Stevie directed David Lindsey Abaire’s Rabbit Hole and Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, which featured QTC actor Chelsea Mayo.

At the Theatre of the First Amendment, Stevie’s direction of a staged reading of Michael P. Smith’s world premiere play, Passaggio, led to her directing a full-scale production of Passaggio at George Mason University.

At the Capital Fringe, Stevie directed Alice – an evening with Alice Roosevelt Longworth as well as a revival of Our Lady of the Clouds. She has also directed staged readings for the Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage festival, the Doorway Arts Ensemble, Beltway Arts inter alia.

At the Wintergreen Performing Arts Festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Stevie directed Yasmina Reza’s Art and the English language premiere of Aristides Vargas’ Our Lady of the Clouds.

Please join us to see Stevie bring her personal touch to Doubt at the QTC!

DOUBT: A PARABLE by John Patrick Shanley (7 April – 7 May 2017)

TICKETS and other show information available HERE.official-qtc-banner-2016

Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley

Praying hands. Free space for a text. Front view

April 7- May 7, 2017

Tickets available now!

This suspenseful, thought-provoking drama received both the Pulitzer Prize and Broadway’s Tony Award. Set in the Bronx in 1964, the play pits Catholic school principal Sister Aloysius against the new, charismatic priest, Father Flynn, when his relationship with the school’s first African American student is perceived to be suspicious. Compelled by her moral certitude, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth.

Directed by Stevie Zimmerman.

Featuring Kecia Campbell, Elliott Kashner, Chelsea Mayo and Stephanie Mumford.

The Actors of THE NIGHT ALIVE Talk About Their Roles: Matthew Vaky plays Tommy

771471-250Matthew was last seen at Quotidian in Conor McPherson’s The Birds. The Night Alive centers on his character, Tommy.

“You said it Marvin.  What’s going on? That is the question.” 

I say that line in The Night Alive.  The question isn’t “to be or not to be?”  The question is “What’s goin’ on”?    It is such a funny, cryptic, tongue in cheek, yet brilliant and deep question.   As Tommy, Aimee and Doc dance onstage, I can feel McPherson giggling, because at the end of this gem, the audience wants to know “What the heck is goin’ on?  What just happened?”

For me, it is the question that hangs over Tommy’s life and throughout the play.   What has happened to me?  How did I get to this state?  I am estranged from my wife and my kids.  My get-rich plans have not worked out, to say the least. I try so hard, yet I live in complete and cluttered bedlam. What is goin’ on indeed?  Tommy is simply trying to do the best he can, yet his world is a swirling mass of chaos. In a split second decision, he helps Aimee, who has just been assaulted, by bringing her into his flat.  This action sets his life spinning in ways that at times seem out of control and at others seem destined by fate.

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David Dubov, Joe Palka, and Matthew Vaky in THE NIGHT ALIVE (photo by StJohnn Blondell)

At rehearsals, we kept unearthing enigmatic, cryptic, and magical ideas:  Is this whole thing a metaphor with Maurice as God and Kenneth as the Snake in the Garden?  Are these characters spiraling into a black hole? Kenneth does describe the darkness outside Tommy’s flat that way. Has time slowed down for these characters and have they crossed over into something otherworldly?  As an actor, I have loved exploring these ideas, but ultimately the beauty of this play is the humanity of these people.  It’s a play about people, plain and simple, and my flawed and kindly Tommy is a joy to embody.   


The Night Alive runs October 21 – November 20, 2016 at The Writer’s Center, where QTC is the Resident Theatre Company. Tickets are on sale now

Behind the Scenes of THE NIGHT ALIVE with Lighting Designer Don Slater

Don Slater is QTC’s Resident Lighting Designer.

Don Slater
Don Slater

As has been noted in other QTC posts, The Night Alive is my ninth Conor McPherson play.   I very much enjoy working on them as his writing style and my lighting style mesh well.  My lighting is largely naturalistic to realistic and tends to be on the dark side.  McPherson’s plays are similar in nature.  This commonality makes the process of lighting the plays a lot easier.

Having worked with Jack and Stephanie for 17 years (and designed for the logistics of The Writer’s Center during that time), we have a very comfortable collaborative process.  I read the script through several times, getting a feel for the piece, determining the locations and times of day, and learning something about the characters.

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John Decker in THE VEIL (photo by StJohnn Blondell)

In the case of The Veil and Shining City, there were special effects to create.  For those of you who saw The Veil, the ghost of the little girl was a lighting effect, not a projection.  The mirror effect at the end of the play was not a reflection – the light was passing through the mirror.  The Night Alive does not require any such effects.  There has been a bit of speculation about the light swirling above the center of the stage during scene changes.  Jack and I discussed how we might create an effect to cover the noise and bustle of the scene changes, especially since the pacing of The Night Alive is important.  We had two water effects projectors we used to create part of the environment for Port Authority many years ago.  I ran some tests with them and felt that they could work for us.  The effect is interesting and serves the purpose as well as generating some questions about what it represents.  Like McPherson, I leave that to the audience.  The rest of the lighting is straightforward and functional.  I tried to keep the scenes sufficiently illuminated and yet dark and spotty at the same time, to complement the sort of life in which the characters are living.


The Night Alive runs October 21 – November 20, 2016 at The Writer’s Center, where QTC is the Resident Theatre Company. Tickets are on sale now