Thursday, March 12, 2015


The future of a boy is in question.   The fate of a priest is under scrutiny.  The certainty of an accusing nun is startlingly evident.  All of these are judge and jury in New Haven Theater Company's current offering, John Patrick Shanley's involving drama "Doubt" playing Thursday to Saturday this week at their new home, the English Building Markets.

What is not in doubt is the sincerity and enthusiasm of the New Haven Theater Company.

Through many iterations of this plucky group since it was founded in the 1990's by T. Paul Lowry, the NHTC has changed and modified itself to accommodate its members.  Now fifteen members strong and numbering entrepreneurs (at least two), an arts administrator, a lawyer, a retired reading teacher, a scientist, marketing managers, a current teacher and a former professional actor, the present version has strengthened and solidified its structure over the last six years.

Once T. Paul Lowry left New Haven for Chicago, the initial group was forced to reinvent itself.  According to Peter Chenot, one of those original members, by 2009 "we have assembled a team that has stayed intact.  It's a labor of love.  The people involved in NHTC respect and love each other a lot.  They bring their own life experiences to the process."  Peter has just accepted a new position with Westport Country Playhouse and he and his wife Megan are intimately involved with the day-to-day functionings of the group.

Everyone by necessity wears a variety of hats, like the director of "Doubt" George Kulp and his star nun, Margaret Mann as Sister Aloysius, who found themselves painting the floor of the stage on Tuesday night, preparing it for the debut performance last Thursday.

While NHTC has a history of being a site-specific theater, moving the performances to a space that fits with the play's action, like office and real estate buildings and banks, it is delighted to have a new place to call home.  Thanks to the generosity of Carol and Robert Orr, the English Building Markets at 839 Chapel Street, New Haven is its intimate location.  It's not often you can walk through a cluttered consignment shoppe, past china, furniture, artwork and jewelry, past racks of vintage clothing and shoes and discover a small forty seat theater in the back. A bonus is you get to window shop before and after the show and maybe take home a new bauble or bead.

One of the most amazing facts about NHTC, according to Steve Scarpa, whose day job is as Director of Marketing and Communications at Long Wharf Theatre, is "there are no egos here.  We are 15 equals from all walks of life and we work together with great trust. We get to try all avenues of theater life, like designing and writing.  We really engage with the show we are doing to create the perfect format for what we want to do."

With "Doubt," the suggestion to do it was made by Steve and put forth for a group discussion, with ways to approach it discussed and by democratic process it was voted to do it.  The fact that Scarpa was an altar boy in his youth and was now going to play Father Flynn was just an added bonus.  "Doubt" focuses on Father Flynn and whether or not he is guilty of an inappropriate relationship with Donald Muller, a 12 year old, the first African- American boy who has ever been admitted to St. Nicholas School.  The time is 1964.

Margaret Mann's Sister Aloysius is stern, pious and unbending as the principal whom all the students fear. She cautions the naive and eager-to-please Sister James, a sweet and innocent Mallory Pellegrino, that she needs more starch in her spine.  She urges Sister James to spy on Father Flynn and confirm her convictions.  As she states unequivocally, "I will bring him down."  Her vigilance is her guardian.  After all, Father Flynn writes with a ball point pen, has long finger nails, takes three sugars in his tea and likes Frosty the Snowman.  These are all evidence of his guilt.  She even seeks the counsel of Donald's mother, a concerned and caring Aleta Staton, to stand with her in her judgmental accusations.

As  for whether or not Father Flynn is guilty or innocent, the playwright leaves the question open for personal interpretation.  Early on in the rehearsal process, director George Kulp met with his Father Flynn, Steve Scarpa, and they discussed "how to approach his part and what it was about."  They refused, however, to discuss it with me.  If you see "Doubt," you'll have to decide on your own.

Next up in May is a new play "The Cult" by the company's resident playwright Drew Gray.  He describes it as "a comedy about a young man with a regular office job who happens to run a cult in his off hours.  It's humane, unique and funny."  Other members of NHTC include Donna Glen, Erich Greene (stage manager for "Doubt"), Ally Kaechele (board operator for "Doubt"), Deena Nicol, Christian Shaboo, J. Kevin Smith and John Watson.

In the final tally, what has never been in doubt, clearly, is the fact that NHTC's goal is to put on a really good show and earn enough money to pay the produce excellent theater for theater's sake and to have fun in the process. 

New Haven Theater Company
839 Chapel Street
New Haven, CT   $20

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