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Wendy R. Williams
Wendy R. Williams 
Greetings Theater Lovers,

Well, this month I finally saw Doubt. And make no doubt about it (sorry, I could not resist), Doubt is an incredible play. Doug Hughes is one of my all-time favorite directors. Frozen, Last Easter and McReele are just some of the many plays that Mr. Hughes has directed and I have written about in this column.

And with Doubt, Mr. Hughes is working with an incredible mix of talent. The play’s author is John Patrick Shanley and the cast is headed up by actors Cherry Jones (winner of 2005 Tony, Obie, Lucille Lortel, and Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Actress) and Brían F. O'Byrne (winner of 2005 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Actor).

Here is a quote from their press release:“Set against the backdrop of a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, Doubt is the story of a strong-minded woman faced with a difficult decision. Should she voice concerns about one of her male colleagues... even if she's not entirely certain of the truth?”

Doubt is a play where you leave the theater talking about the story - and in this case, just whom did you believe? And I mean, believe. The actors are so wonderful, they made fiction a reality for me. But as to the question, it is hard to know. My sympathies were solidly with the priest, but then... well, with everything we now know... you see what I mean... yes, there is definitely room for Doubt.

Doubt received the 2005 Tony Award for Best Play as well as the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, the Obie, Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel, New York Drama Critics Circle, and Outer Critics Circle Awards. Doug Hughes received the 2005 Tony Award and the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Awards for Outstanding Director of a Play. Wow!

Doubt is playing at the Walter Kerr Theater at 219 West 48th Street. Since Doubt just won the Tony, tickets are hard to come by. Those tickets that are still available are being sold at www.telecharge.com where they range in price from $26.25-$90.25. And if it is a little trouble to get tickets to Doubt, it will certainly be worth the effort.

Manuscript stars:
Jeffrey Carlson, Pablo Schreiber and Marin Ireland

I also had the privilege of seeing a very fun play, Paul Grellong’s Manuscript at the Daryl Roth Theatre, 20 Union Square East. Manuscript is directed by the talented Bob Balaban.

Here is a quote from their press release: “When a manuscript is discovered that can guarantee success, three ambitious people set into motion a manipulative quest for vengeance and fame in this calculating comedy by Paul Grellong. Unfolding on stage with youthful wit, Manuscript proves you're only as good as your word. Bob Balaban directs a cast that includes Jeffrey Carlson, Marin Ireland, and Pablo Schreiber. “

This play is extremely well written, very witty, and features Jeffrey Carlson as Chris, Marin Ireland as Elizabeth, and Pablo Schreiber (Liev Schreiber’s little brother) as David. All three of these young actors totally held their own, fighting out their verbal battle to the bitter end. The direction was impeccable; I was utterly charmed and mesmerized. And the funny thing is, I had not even heard of this play until someone gave me tickets. Bravo and keep up the good work!

Tickets are $65.00 through www.telecharge.com

Sir Alan Ayckbourn

And now for you die-hard theater fans (everyone else, go read Miss Wendy), I will tell you about a lecture I went to on June 5, 2005 at the 59E59 Theater. It was titled "A Day With A Knight," and the speaker was Sir Alan Ayckbourn, the legendary playwright, director and artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England. Now this knight has a really cool job; he can always have his plays produced - and he does.

Sir Alan was full of nervous energy and he fiddled and twitched as he spoke. But that nervous energy produced a lot of good practical advice which I will relate to you in this next section.

Sir Alan said that when he started writing plays, he only wrote and someone else directed. Now he does both and this is what he prefers. He said there is a craft to writing directable plays and it is primarily a practical art - and he believes he has benefited from his experience of both writing and directing.

Speaking of his love of plays, Sir Alan said the strength of plays is they involve, “Live people talking to live people.” And his primary goal is to, “Write intelligent entertainment that gives the audience a good time.”

Here is some of Sir Alan’s advice to playwrights:

Speaking on the subject of the idea for a play, he spoke of the necessity of a divine inspiration and then a series of practical decisions to make the play work.

And on the subject of the practical decisions:

  • How many hands (people) does he need to tell the story? Can he do this with two hands?
  • The time span of the play – covering twenty-four hours is very good. It is more difficult to cover a longer period, like, say, twelve years. It is always good to write the play in real time so the actors and the audience breathe the same breath - the most intimate type of writing.
  • Where to start? Start as late as you can (in the storyline). But if you don’t know the end, don’t begin. You will get stuck.
  • Where to set the play? Best to write on a single set. Avoid set changes and having the burglars come out to move things around. It ruins your momentum.
  • Don’t leave too much for the director. But also do not overwrite.
  • Pauses are necessary to let conversation develop.
  • Sound and light can tell the story. A ringing phone can signal an empty office.
  • Dialogue – all characters need to sound different from each other. They should not speak in complete sentences. A playwright is writing for instruments, like a composer does. But the playwright’s instruments are human beings - one must think of the harmony of voices.
  • Try to avoid direct information – let the audience find out for themselves.
  • Please don’t tell people about something that happened somewhere else. It is boring. Example from his own writing: Play about three boring parties in a living room. Set the action in the kitchen.

Sir Alan has written more than sixty plays and he ended the lecture by telling us that playwrights get better the more they write. And I would like to say that they also become wiser. For more information on Sir Alan, log onto http://www.alanayckbourn.net/

Rock on!

Wendy

 


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