(Editor's note: The following commentary comes courtesy of CityBeat contributing writer Tom McElfresh, who reviews a pair of theatrical productions recently staged in Indianapolis.)
There’s a curious consonance between two plays heating up Indy stages these cold winter nights. As unlike as figs and flatirons in their theatrical style, Doubt and End Days are alike in the topic that playwrights John Patrick Shanley and Deborah Zoe Laufer investigate and the conclusion that each reaches — elliptically in his case, more directly in hers.
They aver this: To doubt is to be wise, humane and, ultimately, to find inner strength while clinging blindly to some absolutist certainty is ultimately destructive, no matter how comforting such a certainty might seem.
In the process each playwright levels significant charges at religions that permit, even promote, obsession — be it within the rigid structure of a Catholic school, parish and diocese or in the individual practice of their beliefs by convinced Evangelicals. Let me be clear here: Shanley and Laufer criticize self-serving, personal fervor, not Christianity per se — though Laufer, at least, seems doubtful of its efficacy.
In 2003 Shanley won both a Tony and a Pulitzer for Doubt and richly deserved both honors. Now, Indiana Repertory Theatre (IRT) is presenting it in a virtually flawless main-stage production — directed with clarified simplicity by playwright-in-residence James Still, lit with chilly edges by Lap Chi Chu and set and dressed by Ann Sheffield in a sort of haunted autumn with bare trees, strewn leaves, massive arches and a huge looming window.