Those presenting “Doubt, A Parable” this weekend in Lee’s Summit hope the audience will do more than just see the play.
“We hope that by bringing these kinds of ‘social impact’ plays to the community, we can encourage people to think and discuss and seek understanding of the issues that happen all around us,” says Becca Stabno, president of Summit Theatre Group.
“In a world where social media reigns supreme, we want drama to encourage people to talk to each other about the issues, to give more thought to them than just a quick Tweet or Insta post.”
“Doubt, A Parable” opened last weekend and concludes with this weekend’s performances.
The drama follows Sister Aloysius, a school principal in the New York borough of The Bronx, who takes matters into her own hands when she suspects a youthful Father Flynn of improper relations with a male student.
Father Flynn is played by Caleb Eli Gazaway of Lee’s Summit; Kim Watt of Raymore plays Sister James; Kathy Murphy of Kansas City plays Sister Aloysius; and Mrs. Muller is portrayed by Brianna Walker of Kansas City.
“Doubt, A Parable” was one of three ideas director Aaron Scully, a theater instructor at University of Central Missouri, presented to Summit Theatre.
Scully has a unique relationship with this play, having previously performed as Father Flynn several years ago for the Crane River Theater Company in Kearney, Neb.
”This is the first time I have directed a show in which I have previously acted,” he says. “I played the role of Father Flynn because it is such a challenging role.”
That affected how he approached the Lee’s Summit production.
“I had to be really careful, making sure I was going in with a blank slate,” Scully says.
There are important differences on the set that made the process easier, he says. In the Crane River production, the set was “alley” style with the audience on both sides of the stage.
The Lee’s Summit production places Sister Aloysius’ office on one side, a garden on the other and a pulpit in the middle.
“It felt like a different show and that helped,” Scully says.
Stabno says Scully’s vision for “Doubt, A Parable” fit Summit Theatre Group’s season well.
“It’s a very intense and thought-provoking play that leaves you feeling unsure and slightly unsettled, and, dare I say, doubtful about the outcomes.,” she says.
“It is a story that will hopefully encourage dialogue about how we should view others, how we come to conclusions, and how we protect our children. After seeing the show, I left feeling like I wasn’t quite sure who was right and who was wrong. It’s done very well.”
Scully says a production centered on idea of truth and doubt is very topical.
”We live in a world where we often don’t know what to believe and this play challenges our individual truth and does it in a way that is fascinating and intense,” Scully says.
“It is more about truth and what we believe is true…what inherent biases we have that make us believe one person, or one thing, than another.
“We are kind of asking that question of our society. What makes people to believe things without evidence.”
A key in the directing, Scully says, was working with the actors so the audience is pulled in both directions.
“It is important the actors who play these roles truly believe what they believe. For them to have any doubt, per se, it takes away the truth between the two.”
Gazaway, who plays Father Flynn, said it has been a great acting experience. He is an admirer of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Father Flynn in the 2008 movie. Gazaway, a theater graduate of the University of Central Missouri, also wanted to work with Scully.
Gazaway says he thinks “Doubt, A Parable” is also about love and acceptance.
“It’s also about new school versus old school, about a new generation coming up with new ideas,” Gazaway says.
Scully agrees that he hopes the play is only the start of a discussion among the audience. He hopes they ask themselves: “Am I the one getting it wrong, believing the wrong thing?”
“I think it is good for the audience to go have coffee or pie after, and the discuss why they think he did it or not,” Scully says.
This isn’t the first serious drama produced by Summit Theatre Group, which has produced such plays as “The Women of Lockerbie,” “Next to Normal,” “A Piece of My Heart” and “All My Sons.”
“I think it’s important as a theater company that we don’t shy away from presenting difficult material, although it’s good to alternate it with the fun and lighthearted as well,” Stabno says.
“Live theater is a wonderful opportunity to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, in someone else’s world, and lose yourself there for a couple of hours.”
“Doubt, A Parable” will be performed Oct. 11 to 13 at the MCC-Longview Cultural Arts Center, 500 S..W Longview Road, in Lee’s Summit. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. For ticket information, visit https://www.summittheatre.org/