Quotidian 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.””