Wednesday 30 December 2009

Random Thoughts on Doubt: The Director/Writer's Commentary

It was fun and informative. However, as I was discussing the commentary with a friend,I wondered just how autobiographical it actually was. Shanley says that it is in large part autobiographical. Shanley himself says that if any one of the boys were him, it would have been a student called Johnny Langdon (I think that was the name) who got into all sorts of trouble. And it was this boy's reaction to Father Flynn touching him on the arm that made Sister Aloysius first wonder about Father Flynn. He tells the story about how he drank the sacristy wine and was kicked out as an altar boy - a story that is brought into the play. Just wondering.

It reminded me of Sylvia Fraser, a Canadian writer, who wrote a book in 1985 called My Father's House. She wrote how, although she had completely repressed her father's sexual abuse of her when she was a child, it seeped out, not only in her life, but in the sexual violence in her novels.

It also reminds me of Dean R. Koontz, the horror writer. Some years ago, a friend asked him why all of his stories contained the same three people: a single man, a young boy in trouble, and a woman who becomes a friend (really obvious to anyone who has read his books). He denied it, then went back and started to reread his books. Lo and behold, it was true. He went into therapy to find out why. [as an aside, you can actually tell when he was having problems - the books (Hideaway, Mr. Murder, for example) during that period just weren't up to his usual compelling style - the solutions felt way too contrived] - he seems to be back on target again (although he has dropped the R. from his name). Then there's James Ellroy whose memoir, My Dark Places, tells his story.

An interesting review of the play when it was on Broadway: Weighing Doubt: One Playwright's Measured Look at the Crisis in the Catholic Church. Now I will have to get the script of the play. Reading (and listening to Shanley talk about the same period and thinking back to my Catholic friends over the years) about how Catholics viewed the 60s and 70s as a time of change, openness and hope always reminds me how different it is for people inside the belief system and people like me, who have had their run-in with the Catholic belief system, but stood outside it. Vatican II seemed to me, when I was studying it at university, to be about changing the trivialities or the externals - it never made any serious change to the core doctrines and dogma of the church - for example, the theology of the sacramental priesthood.

According to the previous review, he (the author, John Patrick Shanley) is not related to Paul Shanley (one of my questions). Well that's not exactly what he says in an interview just before the play opened off Broadway in 2004. What he says is "And the other biggest predator priest is named Paul Shanley, which, frankly, I don’t like. I’d like to take back the family name. I looked us up in a book of heraldry once. Shanley had two lines: “A small group of excessively quarrelsome, excessively religious people.” Whether he is related, even at a distance is not clear.

Just random thoughts.

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