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Liev Schreiber Takes on Role of Catholic Priest in ‘Doubt’ Revival on Broadway

EntertainmentLiev Schreiber Takes on Role of Catholic Priest in 'Doubt' Revival on Broadway

One Sunday, Liev Schreiber was having some quiet time to himself when he received a call regarding a potential Broadway role in the play “Doubt.” The actor and new father laughs and says, “I had just come out of Mass with my in-laws, which is odd for a Jewish boy from the Lower East Side.”

While he was there, Schreiber observed the weekly gathering of the town’s residents for Catholic services at the nearby church in Montauk, on the tip of Long Island, which had touched him. The 56-year-old Tony Award winner says, “Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s having another kid, but I’ve been thinking a lot about faith and its place in our society and culture.”

He has discovered the ideal setting for contemplating these concepts and more in a Broadway revival of Pulitzer Prize–winning drama by John Patrick Shanley, which opens during Lent. On March 7, it opens.

Liev Schreiber and Amy Ryan. (Joan Marcus/Polk & Co. via AP)

Schreiber plays the endearing, gregarious, and upbeat Father Flynn, a new middle school teacher and basketball coach. The drama is set in 1964 in New York City. His opponent is Sister Aloysius, the principal, a steely-spined, vinegary woman who prevents the children from singing “Frosty the Snowman” and has misgivings about ballpoint pens.

The two characters argue about a vague accusation that he may have molested a male student who is twelve years old, an allegation he vigorously refutes. The audience alternates between the two, considering the facts but never being certain—lost in uncertainty. “When you’re unsure, what do you do?” Father Flynn queries the crowd.

“In our extremely divided society right now, there’s this conversation about doubt as a unifying concept that I really think is interesting,” adds Schreiber. “Rather than destroying and nullifying one another, we could actually make some progress if we could just all agree that we don’t agree.” The Roundabout Theatre Company’s interim artistic director, Scott Ellis, stated that Schreiber was the only candidate he had in mind to play Father Flynn. He says, “Let me say, I had no doubt about it.”

The 2004 novel “Doubt,” which won a Tony Award and was adapted into a 2008 film starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, aptly depicts the country’s epidemic of Catholic sex abuse. However, it also has resonances with the period preceding the Iraqi war, when statements on the existence of WMDs were made with confidence.

It’s not his fault. It has to deal with uncertainty. Schreiber says, “It’s about what doubt does to us.” “I think the discussion going on right now about what doubt is doing to all of us, how we are using doubt, and how we are weaponizing doubt is really interesting.” After lengthy discussions about the play, Ellis and Schreiber decided against taking a rigid did-he-did-not approach to Father Flynn.

Amy Ryan, Zoe Kazan and Liev Schreiber. (Joan Marcus/Polk & Co. via AP)

It was actually a far more comprehensive depiction of our current social state. How can we interpret this story differently? That was twenty years ago. We live in a distinct civilization. There is such a separation; we are in a different place,” adds Ellis.

Schreiber’s writing has previously addressed sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. In “Ray Donovan,” he portrayed a man who had been abused by a priest; in “Spotlight,” he played the Boston Globe editor who pushed his publication to thoroughly look into the Boston cover-up.

I sense that the audiences find this play to be quite engaging, with a wealth of topics to discuss. After our recent two-preview on Wednesday, they’re buzzing when we’re done, which is such a thrill to be in something like that,” he remarks.

For “Doubt,” Schreiber spoke with the playwright and saw the film. “I’m one of those actors who openly admit that acting is theft, so I watch everything,” he adds. In addition, he questioned priests and nuns at the Bronx’s Mount Saint Vincent Convent.

He claims that the elder men and women’s sense of purpose and duty before it was hit by the semi-truck of abuse lawsuits really touched him. He claims, “It kind of restored my faith in faith.”

With his Bronx-forward accent and mannerisms, Schreiber, a native New Yorker who won a Tony for “Glengarry Glen Ross” in 2005, bases his performance in the neighborhood where Shanley lived.


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