Now to Naples come two well-presented serious dramas which, though very different superficially, thematically have much in common.
David Mamet’s “Race” at Gulfshore Playhouse is a taut, profane chamber piece, focusing sharply on the issue of race relations, with uncertainty over an accused man’s guilt as the engine of the plot. John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” at the Naples Players is a more self-consciously literate work, emphasizing in this case doubt over a man’s guilt or innocence as the overarching theme, but with racial issues present as well.
“Race” takes place in a law office where defense counsel are grappling with the case of a wealthy white man accused of raping a black woman. Two of the lawyers are African-American; one is white. The white attorney, contrary to his hard and fast rule to never concern himself with a client’s actual guilt or innocence, becomes convinced that the accused did not commit the crime. The young black female associate is unwavering in her certainty of the man’s guilt and (spoiler alert) she contrives to bring him down.
All the roles are superbly performed by the professional actors. Kristen Coury again demonstrates her knack in identifying the right actors and her versatility in directing very different genres. Particularly fascinating is Brent Langdon’s portrayal of Charles Strickland, the accused rapist. This ambiguous character is by turns pompous, outraged, self-justifying, self-loathing and self-destructive. Langdon integrates all this into the man.
“Race” includes foul language, though never gratuitously or unrealistically. Its many four-letter words includes one that I do not believe I have heard before onstage.
“Doubt,” though set in 1964, also deals with a current topic, child abuse by Roman Catholic priests. The principal of a parish school, Sister Aloysius, has suspicions amounting to certainty, though no hard evidence, that Father Flynn is inappropriately involved with the school’s only black student. She is a tough, practical woman, superficially hidebound and traditional, with great wisdom and acute awareness of the gender bias permeating the church. Flynn is an apparently warm and charming liberal cleric, seemingly imbued (unless this is part of his cover) with the Vatican II spirit. This subtext of new-church versus old-church stood out more clearly here than in other productions I have seen — yearning like Sister Aloysius has for the certainties of the church of the 40’s and 50’s is still in evidence today.
“Doubt” is, coincidentally, also a four-character play and again all the actors are excellent. Megan McCombs must be singled out as Sister Aloysius. Coming from this old Catholic schoolboy, I can assure you of the authenticity of her characterization. McCombs brings out the contradictions and complexities of a character that could appear one-dimensional.
The language is dense and the play seriously explores important moral concepts — honesty, obedience, oppression, integrity and one’s relationship to God.
The one disappointment here is the set, which is a jumble of furniture that fails to add to the mood for the piece.
We are fortunate to have the always excellent professional Gulfshore Playhouse and a community theater which can rise to very high levels, as the Players have in “Doubt.”