By Katie Lovett Features Editor
Newburyport Daily News
---- — There’s no doubt that it’s been an interesting few weeks at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport.
After all, it alway is when the performing arts venue stages a full-scale production like the performance that opens tonight. This weekend and next, Newburyport’s Suzanne Bryan is directing a local cast in a production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable.”
The Tony Award-winning play, which explores the concepts of doubt and certainty and right and wrong, stars Newburyport’s Kathy Isbell, Caroline Gulde of Somerville, Kathy Ann Hart of Somerville and Byfield’s Damon Jesperson.
“I am very intrigued by the concept of doubt; I think it’s a profound concept really,” Bryan said. “I wonder why we as humans avoid the discomfort of doubt.”
Shanley’s piece, which also won a Pulitzer Prize, is set in urban America during the 1960s. The audience follows an unfolding scenario at a local parish school where principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier wrestles with her suspicion that a priest is sexually abusing a student. Audience members are left to decide for themselves what is right, what is wrong — and what makes up the area in between, organizers say.
Approached by Bryan with an enthusiastic and passionate pitch to direct the production, Firehouse artistic director Kimm Wilkinson said she didn’t hesitate.
“This was something, for me, that was easy to say yes to,” she said.
While the topic of the show is complex and weighty, Wilkinson said she’s confident audiences will respond favorably to the performance. In writing the play, Shanley did not “point fingers,” leaving play-goers to form their own conclusions.
“I think we have a very open community; it’s a very well-written play,” she added. “If the actors do their job well, and I know they will because they’re working hard, you do not form an opinion.”
“It’s so well-written, you’re not blaming anybody,” Bryan said. As the play unfolds, the audience learns the frameworks around the perceived incident, she added, and are introduced to the perspective of each character. As the audience listens, they likely will be swayed by each, she added.
“I think this play will really spark conversation, and that’s what we do in theater,” Bryan said.
With a limited budget, Wilkinson said the Firehouse received an anonymous donation to help fund the show — which the same donor has done in previous productions for the venue, including “Proof.”
“We’re building a really nice reputation for strong theater,” she said, noting that in recent months, the Firehouse has staged “Gin Game,” “Spring Awakening” and several others.
“Over the last 2 1/2 years, we’ve really come back to doing full productions,” Wilkinson said.
Newburyport’s Ted Simpson designed the set for the show, returning to a role he used to be quite familiar with. After completing graduate school in Boston, Simpson served as the designer for about eight Firehouse productions before moving to New York City.
Returning to Newburyport after securing a position at Tufts University recently, Simpson was approached by Bryan, who asked if he would work on her latest production.
“The theater itself is quite easy to design in,” Simpson said. The sight lines are “forgiving,” and the size of the venue is intimate, he added.
Still, the production does come with some challenges.
“The challenge, of course, is doing it for the dollars that they have” and within the time constraints, Simpson said.
Wilkinson called the set, which was constructed by Fred LaRouche, “magical.”
“It’s really going to be wild,” she said.
Bryan praised the “extraordinary support” she’s received from Firehouse staff, the board of directors, donors and the community as a whole.
“I’m working with an extraordinary crew and cast; I have a dream cast of actors,” she said. “We’re putting on a little piece of magic, I think.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Doubt: A Parable” by John Patrick Shanley
WHEN: Tonight through Sunday, and Oct. 18-21; Thursay through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
WHERE: Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport
HOW: $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and students. To purchase, visit www.firehouse.org or call the box office at 978-462-7336.