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Now anybody can be a theater critic

ARTS NOTES

March 20, 2005|Don Shirley

Playwright John Patrick Shanley says he was "incredibly weary of the standard bios in programs." So in his biography in the programs for his "Doubt," at the Pasadena Playhouse and in New York, Shanley recounts his less-than-illustrious academic career and then invites theatergoers to send their reactions to his play to an e-mail address he provides.

Some of the e-mails may have made a difference in "Doubt." Shanley is in New York preparing for the play's Broadway opening and has no plans to see the Pasadena production. But after the first preview in Pasadena, he received a couple of missives with criticisms of the production that he forwarded to director Claudia Weill. Such complaints have now stopped, so he believes the problems were fixed.

"It's an efficient way of stepping around the producers and finding out what ... is going on," Shanley says.

Other e-mails, although they have not yielded such practical results, have certainly given him something to talk about. One man wrote his own ending, offering to sign away all the rights to the material so it could immediately go into the play. Shanley thanked him but also notified him that "I don't put my name on other people's stuff and say it's mine."

The playwright also learned via e-mail that his first-grade teacher from 48 years ago remains alive and teaching. Like the young teacher in "Doubt," her name is Sister James. He invited her to the New York production and introduced her to the actress playing the fictional Sister James.

Most of the e-mails have been positive, Shanley says, although a couple have accused him of "church bashing." And several have asked him to please clarify whether the priest in the play was guilty of sexual abuse. All such queries are met with a refusal, he says. "My point is for [theatergoers] to get comfortable with their own feelings about the play and continue to cogitate."

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