Friday, May 6, 2011

Gossip

 
Doubt:  A Parable (2004)
by John Patrick Shanley
 
A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew - I know none of you have ever done this - and that night she had a dream.  A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her.  She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt.  The next day she went to confession.  She got the old parish priest, Father O'Rourke, and she told him the whole thing.  "Is gossiping a sin?" she asked the old man.  "Was that the Hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me?  Should I be asking your absolution?  Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?" "Yes!" Father O'Rourke answered her.  "Yes, you ignorant, badly brought-up female! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!!"  So the woman said she was sorry and asked forgiveness.  "Not so fast!" says O'Rourke.  "I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!"  So she went home, took the pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow.  Then she went back to the old priest as instructed.  "Did you gut the pillow with the knife?" he says.  "Yes, Father."  "And what was the result?"  "Feathers," she said.  "Feathers?" he repeated.  "Feathers everywhere, Father!"  "Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!"  "Well," she says, "it can't be done.  I don't know where they went.  The wind took them all over."  "And that," said Father O'Rourke, "is gossip!"
 
Certainly one of the proudest moments of my acting career was the honor of playing Father Flynn in a local production of John Patrick Shanley's 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt.  It was one of the first times I had ever had the chance to play a leading role, having played mostly smaller supporting roles (which are usually more fun).  I was also at the top of my game physically (I was at my lightest adult weight) and emotionally.  It's a terrific play about a Bronx middle school principal, a nun, who accuses the parish priest of improper relations with a male student.  The question "did he do it?" is never truly answered - thus the title of the play - and the challenge was to leave the audience questioning even though, in my mind, I knew the answer for my character.  My barometer of success was asking audience members after the show for their conclusion and I knew I was successful when there was an even number of guilty vs. innocent verdicts.  Fortunately, this was typically the case.

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