Friday, June 10, 2005

"Doub" -- purposely mispelled to out-abbreviate John Patrick Shanley

I'm really asking for it here. But I just read Doubt by John Patrick Shanley.

And can we please ...
The fuck.

There. I just wrote a play. Don't believe me? Maybe if I subtitle it "A Parable" it'll fly with the boys at MTC. Mr. Shanley needs a few titles by Descartes added to his wishlist -- then maybe he can find a compelling angle on the subject of doubt without burdening the rest of us with his playwriting.

I don't often read the prefaces to plays. Or if I do, it's only after I've actually read the actual play a couple times and find myself toggling between elation and exasperation -- wanting more, in short. After reading Shanley's eleven featherweight scenes, I was too angry to rip the damn thing apart (it was a borrowed copy). So I read the preface in which Mr. Shanley asks the following deep questions:

1. What is doubt?
2. Is certainty a good thing?
3. What's underneath a play?
4. What's underneath me?
5. Like, right now?
6. Feel that, bitch?
7. Mmmm. You want more?

And so on and so on. Writers can impeach themselves in many ways. The first is to confess that plays are better read than seen -- witness the "closet drama" of centuries past, the apotheosis of Hamlet and Falstaff by Harold Bloom, and most recently, Mamet's flat-out admission of just that in True and False. I would say the second way to impeach yourself as a writer is to start your story from a title. Go ahead. Pick any word. Or words. Start with that and then make sure every other element is transparently extrapolated from this narrow starting point. Done? Great, here's your Pulitzer.

Shanley confesses this. He saw the word doubt somewhere ... guess he never had before or he hadn't smoked enough weed while staring at it before ... and knew he had a title for a play! About what? Dunno. Oh, wait! DOUBT! That's what it's about! Featuring whom? DOUBT! Starring whom? Doubty McDoubterson as Father Fallacy! Talking about what? DOUBT! Affirming the primacy of what thematic concept? Gimmie a one ... gimmie a two ... gimmie a fucking break.

Okay. That was my emotional recation. There will be a well-wrought, annotated, intertextual analysis in my next post. In the meantime, if you haven't read the play, go steal a copy right now. Run, don't walk, to Borders in your quest to deprive Shanley of his royalty money. Of course, since it's won the f'ing Pulitzer, it's pretty much guaranteed to hog stagespace at every regional theatre in the country next season. But if you can't wait until then, Borders will do just fine. In other words, please don't comment just yet. I'm speaking to you, Trillum! You wily poster of posts! Give an angry guy a minute to get his critical gear on ... then we can all spar on this one.


SadProfessor said...

I had no desire to see or read that play when I first heard about it, cared even less when I half-watched Charlie Rose interview Shanley, then even less when I had to endure clips while half-watching the Tonys. Gag me with a spoon, what a boring idea for a play.

I just noticed you said not to comment, but you seem to be addressing someone called Trillum. And since I haven't read the play, I thought I was well-qualified to cent in with my two chimes.

Anonymous said...

Trillum no makum trouble till Trillum readum said script of "Doubt"...but...oh..oh, no...fingers have mind of own...can't stop keyboarding...keep seeing...irony...that...literary critic (who actually traffics in the flesh and blood of the stage nightly) might "impeach" himself if judgements are passed before he sees flesh and blood production of said script in action... Bad, Trillum... Bad, biscuit.

Then again , script may really suck big time. Look forward to your analysis.

yvette said...

oh, my... oh, dear. maybe i should not have suggested you see big death/little death. as i am sure you noticed, it is... um... about death. sorta.

RennyRu said...

You know, just for kicks and giggles I went to the "Doubt" website and... I'm totally not making this up... at the end of John Patrick Shanley's bio it says "Mr. Shanley is interested in your reactions. Please send your impressions to"

I dare you! I totally dare you!


Amy E. said...

I found 'Doubt' to be the literary equivalent of having a complete rectal exam.