Tonight I am going to a preview screening of Doubt, the big-screen adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s Tony Award-winning play. The film stars two of the best actors of our generation in the lead roles (Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and centers on a crime that may or may not have occurred at a 1960s Catholic school. It’s the kind of story that will definitely have you talking as you exit the theater.
So why am I apprehensive?
Well, I blame that on WaterTower Theatre.
The Addison theater produced a wonderful staging of the play earlier this fall, and now I am wondering if the movie can possibly match it? For all the advantages that a film may have over a stage in terms of scope and visual landscape, in this case the stage holds a major trump card: audiences’ streamlined expectations.
In WaterTower’s production, only four characters see the stage: Father Flynn, Sister Aloysius (who accuses the priest of an inappropriate relationship with a student), Sister James (who doesn’t know who to believe) and Mrs. Muller, the boy’s mother.
Strategically absent from the proceedings: the boy.
For me, this is a brilliant choice. Aside from Father Flynn, who has his own self-interest to worry about, the boy is the only character who knows definitively what did or did not happen. He can’t sway the audience’s opinion if we can’t look into his eyes and watch his mannerisms. That keeps the playing field level between the nun and the priest.
Film, on the other hand, needs a more filled-in landscape. And so to that end, it appears that Shanley (who is directing the film, too) wrote the boy into the film.
From the few instances you see him in the trailer, nothing is given away. And there’s always the chance that the child playing the role is such a good actor that we won’t be influenced one way or another. But there’s something to the logic behind WaterTower’s choice to not show him at all, and I will be curious to see tonight if there is a case for seeing the boy’s face.
I’ll have to wait to answer that question, though, until the film comes out on Dec. 12. Can’t go breaking those embargoes.