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