I'm looking for...



Happening:
Anytime
to
Near:
Anywhere
That is
Anything

Doubt the Play vs. Doubt the Film


by Stephen Becker 29 Dec 2008

The KERA radio story: The expanded online story: The choices artists make sometimes are as interesting as the work itself. Take Doubt. It follows a ruthless nun accusing a priest of an inappropriate relationship with an altar boy. It won a Pulitzer as a play before becoming a film. The movie stars Meryl Streep as […]

CTA TBD

  • The KERA radio story:
  • The expanded online story:

The choices artists make sometimes are as interesting as the work itself.

Take Doubt.

It follows a ruthless nun accusing a priest of an inappropriate relationship with an altar boy. It won a Pulitzer as a play before becoming a film. The movie stars Meryl Streep as the icy Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn.

Plays are turned into movies all the time.

But what makes this transformation unique is that the playwright, John Patrick Shanley, also directed the film.

The story remains the same. But the ways that the story is presented lead to very different experiences.

I saw Doubt the play at Addison’s WaterTower Theatre this fall. (Jerome Weeks reviewed the play in October.) This month, I saw Doubt, the film.

The film has received mostly positive reviews, but it has its detractors.

One of them is Terry Martin, the man who staged it at WaterTower this fall. For every minute I’ve thought about Doubt, Martin’s thought about it for an hour. That’s important, as Doubt is all about the details.

MARTIN: “I have to be honest in saying I would be really interested to know what my experience of the film would have been had I not been so familiar with the play. I was dissatisfied I guess was my ultimate feeling about it. I wanted more.”

In WaterTower’s show, only four characters ever see the stage. The possible victim is noticeably missing.

Without him, the audience can’t gain any insight by looking into his eyes. The effect is that the playing field remains even between the priest and his accuser.

But the film version of Doubt had different challenges. Even Martin admits that it would have been difficult to fill out a film with only four characters.

But it’s in the casting that the play and the film start to head in different directions. For the film, Shanley added the boy. I feared that this was an unwise choice. But the reality is that this tactic also worked for me. The young actor projects happiness, hopefulness, despair and sadness. And the audience is no wiser for the extra information.

In this case, Martin says he prefers Shanley the playwright over Shanley the director.

MARTIN: “That really bugged me in so much as it took my participation out of it. I think that’s one of the things that is so interesting about theater to me is that it requires participation from an audience for the experience to be complete, and this is what’s so wonderful about the play Doubt to me is that because we don’t see the children and most of the time we don’t see any of the actions that are talked about, we have the ability to participate by creating them in our imagination.”

In comparing the two versions, there are many times when the play zigs as the film zags. It’s those different visions that even left Martin with a few questions after seeing the film.

MARTIN: “I’ll be honest with you – after I got over my initial disappointment, what happened to me was I began to question my interpretation of the story – thinking, ‘Oh my god, have I completely missed what this playwright’s point was?'”

It seems that Doubt begets more doubt. And that’s OK. The choices are not really a case of right or wrong. Instead, they are just different artistic visions.

After watching the play and the film, there’s a lesson to be learned: Sometimes the building blocks are as interesting as the house.

Doubt film image courtesy of Miramax; Doubt play image courtesy of WaterTower Theatre.

SHARE
  • Sarah

    Interesting story! Since I saw Doubt at WaterTower and then heard that the movie was coming out, I immediately wondered what Terry Martin/the WaterTower actors would think about the movie…

  • Steve Melton

    Interesting insight by Becker. Makes me want to see them now.
    I could have my sixth graders do a Venn diagram – compare and contrast.

  • Jennifer

    I saw both WaterTower’s version and the movie…I give the advantage to WaterTower. Very thought-provoking and more subtle than the movie.

  • Lori Price

    Nice to hear a local take on a national film.

  • Mike

    Thank you Mr. Becker for your insights into the movie. This has been a big help in helping me to decide whether or not to see the film.

  • Grace

    A very interesting article! I, too, saw WaterTower’s fall production and am looking forward to seeing the film so that I can get another take on the story.