Published on March 21st, 2012 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Ron Reed – Director of “Doubt: A Parable”
In Vancouver’s theatre community, Ron Reed is best-known as the Founder of Pacific Theatre. When he’s not working behind the scenes as the Artistic Director, Ron is often a contributing to productions as an actor and writer. On Pacific Theatre’s newest production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable, Ron is handling directing duties. He spoke with us in advance of the play’s opening to share some insights into the process.
What inspired you to take on this production?
When I read this script, long before I ever had the chance to see it, I knew it was pure, absolute essential Pacific Theatre material. John Patrick Shanley wrote it for us. He didn’t know that at the time, but he did.
I also knew it was one of the great scripts I had ever read. The subtleties, the economy, the complete mastery of the ebb and flow of our sympathies and understanding, the revelations about character and event, the carefully managed perceptions and misperceptions. Absolute mastery. In service of an important, powerful, utterly human story that simply had to be told. On our stage. By our artists.
It was just as clear to me that Erla Faye Forsyth had to play Sister Aloysius, one of the great original creations in all the literature for the stage. That Erla is precisely the actress to bring an audience the elusive and intricate balances embodied in this most complex and misunderstandable – and perhaps misunderstanding – of human beings. We need to dread her, but we need to love her – and it’s darn hard to find an actress who embodies both. Effortlessly. And we’ve got her. Think of the starch of Erla’s Miss Daisy, combined with the winsome charisma of her clown character in Lucia Frangione’s Holy Mo, and you’ve got a pretty amazing, and distinctive, Sister A.
Can you briefly walk us through your creative process for this production, from the early stages all the way to opening?
No bells and whistles, no extras, no clutter. Design-wise, to match the lean economy of the script with a spare, elegant, impassioned production. Clear, uncluttered attention on actors and text: truthful, direct, un-performed; characters absolutely connected to one another, dancing, boxing, interrogating.
Are there any books or specific authors that have been influential to you so far in your creative journey?
Writing In Restaurants by David Mamet. For a vision of the necessity of live theatre. I have a great deal of difficulty with what Mamet says elsewhere about the practice of acting, but find his manifestos about the power of embodied storytelling endlessly invigorating.
Backwards And Forwards by David Ball. There is no better, clearer book about the irreducible mechanism of storytelling than this. Obviously essential for playwrights and dramaturgs, but equally so for actors and especially directors.
Story by Robert McKee. There is no more thorough, detailed book about the complexities of storytelling than this. There are important differences between telling stage stories and screen stories, of course – language predominates in theatre, image in film – but truly, nearly all the rest of it applies. (Well, except all that stuff about genre: marketing-driven Hollywood has niched its product in a way we theatre types can mostly disregard. Consider it “helpful problem-solving tips” rather than gospel.)
Playwrights John Patrick Shanley, Lanford Wilson, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Helen Edmundson, William Shakespeare.
What were the biggest challenges for you as a director in developing this production and how did you deal with them?
My job as director: keep the audience in doubt. Achieve every reversal in audience sympathy and judgment that Shanley wrote into this intricate, confounding story. It’s so easy to let the audience settle too easily into one perception or another – which is not the playwright’s intention. Quite the opposite.
What can you share about any future projects that are in development?
Once Doubt opens, I get back in my Artistic Director chair and polish up details on Pacific Theatre’s 2012-13 season, which we announce March 15. Then I’m up on my feet again, acting: I rejoin the cast of The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot at The Cultch in April, playing Butch Honeywell. After that, the thing I’m most excited about — I’m back in front of the keyboard again as playwright in May / June / July to start work on my first new script in a decade! My last three projects – A Bright Particular Star, You Still Can’t and Refuge Of Lies – were all about completing or reshaping earlier scripts I’d set aside. Since then, the fields had to lay fallow for a few years, due to the demands of running a theatre company. But now, three projects all think their time has come (in order of increasing difficulty): a stage adaptation of a film, a stage adaptation of a non-fiction book, and an original play about the waning friendship between two of my favourite literary figures. I’m borderline giddy to be getting back to writing – which I’d begun to thing might not ever happen again. Whew.