It's a 2nd take for 3 'Doubt' actors

Monday, April 30, 2018
Amanda Green, as Sister James, and Bethany Larson, who plays Sister Aloysius, meet for a conversation in Aloysius’s office.
Photos by Paula Buenger

This is the second in a series of stories looking at Spare Change Theatre’s upcoming production of “Doubt, a Parable,” debuting Friday at Gary’s on the River. Spare Change Theatre is a program of Spencer Community Theatre.

Actors spend their lives diving into and out of the lives of other people. Throughout their careers, they have an opportunity to explore a wide array of human emotions, experiences and personas.

With the vast array of material available, what would convince an actor to reprise a role, or return to a production he or she has already been involved in?

For three of the four cast members of "Doubt, a Parable," which debuts Friday night as a Spare Change Theatre production, the decision to come home to the play was all about the material.

"I like quality shows, and shows that are challenging," said Amanda Green, who is returning to the role of Sister James a decade after she last donned the habit in the same role.

Merrin Guice is also reprising a role she had performed before, as Mrs. Muller.

"We live a very polarized existence," said Guice, a professor of music at Buena Vista University. "In this play, there are no absolutes. I like the ability to honor this work, the ability to perform this role."

For Bethany Larson, a professor of theatre at Buena Vista University, her last experience with "Doubt, a Parable" saw her in a different role — as director of a BVU student production. She's been a fan of the work, however, since it first debuted.

"I saw the show on Broadway, with Cherry Jones, whom I had worked with, in the cast," Larson explained. "I really wanted to be involved in this production, but I did have to twist my husband's arm."

Her husband, David Grant Walker, had good reason to be concerned about adding to the family's schedule. He is also a BVU theater professor, and is directing the BVU production of "Noises Off," which features the couple’s son Dalton. Daughter Beatrice Walker was in the cast of Storm Lake High School's "You Can't Take it With You." Both those shows took to the stage this past weekend. Larson juggled supporting those efforts with her own travels to Spencer three days a week to rehearse for "Doubt."

Merrin Guice, who plays Mrs. Muller, the mother of a young student who Sister Aloysius suspects is being abused by Father Flynn, is called into the office of Aloysius. Guice defends her son’s right to remain at the school, and the importance of the opportunity it presents.

"It has created some complicated schedules," Larson conceded.

The opportunity to work with a small cast and really dig into issues that echo real life situations that resonate today were lures for the three women.

"Growing up Catholic, I found, as a piece of art, the writer captures very accurately issues that resonate in the church then and now," Guice said. "While Mrs. Muller's response to the situation is in some ways dated, I appreciate the treatment of class and race. There is a lot of truth in the work.”

Larson, who is portraying Sister Aloysius, the principal at the school where the action takes place, said the opposing forces of certainty and doubt are at war in the drama, along with a face-off between new and old church doctrine and the hierarchy that saw nuns subservient to priests in the church organization.

"There is nothing she takes lightly,” Larson said. “She's a very observant person with deep, deep convictions. While she has power within her domain, she doesn't within the church. That's frustrating for her.”

Green sees the drama as timely in light of the "Me, Too" movement, and the climate in which people talk at, rather than with, others with absolute conviction in their own beliefs.

"It is such a good opportunity to get away from those absolutes that we have in the world right now," Green said. "It's interesting to see the different conclusions people can come to while watching the same work. It's uncomfortable, and it's meant to be uncomfortable."

There is, however, comfort in the familiarity the actors have in one another. Larson and Guice are colleagues, and Green, Larson and director Wendy Van Tassell performed together on the Spencer Community Theatre stage in "Steel Magnolias."

"To be able to work with Amanda and Wendy again is such thrill," Larson said. "And Merrin and Colin (Van Westen, who plays Father Flynn) have been incredible."

The four-person cast has allowed the group to take a deep dive into the issues of the drama.

"It's been very gratifying to dig in to the issues," Larson said. "We've done a lot of exploration through this rehearsal period."

Performance information

Dates: May 4-6

Times: Friday and Saturday, May 4-5 — 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 6 — 2 p.m.

Location: Gary’s on the River, 24 W. Park St.

Tickets: $8 general seating

(Ticket price includes light finger food. Cash bar opens one hour prior to the performance.)

Tickets may be purchased at the Spencer Community Theatre box office at 518 First Ave. E., by phone at 712-262-7336 or at The Bear Coffee House and Wine Bar. Tickets may be purchased at the door with cash, depending on availability.

“Doubt, a Parable” is recommended for mature audiences.

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