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The Navigator

Writer has a way with the serious, silly

By Rick Gershman
Published April 20, 2007


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I have no doubt (pun mostly unintended) that our performing arts critic, John Fleming, will have plenty to say in the upcoming week about Doubt.

John Patrick Shanley's play, which opens Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, is one of the most honored plays in years.

Even before the play reached Broadway, it earned the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Shanley and Doubt star Cherry Jones won Obie Awards, American theater's top honors for off-Broadway productions.

Once it reached Broadway, the play was nominated for eight 2005 Tony Awards, including nominations for all four original cast members.

It won Tonys for Best Play and Best Direction (Doug Hughes) and for Jones and her co-star Adriane Lenox.

I'll let John deal with the details, but the basic story is of a Catholic school nun who clashes with a new priest over concerns about inappropriate behavior.

Just know that TBPAC has the national touring production, which stars Jones and is directed by Hughes. So it's top-of-the-line.

Personally, I'm intrigued by Shanley and his brilliantly turbulent writing career for stage and film.

He arrived seemingly out of nowhere by winning an Oscar in 1988 for Moonstruck, one of his first produced screenplays (it originally was titled The Bride and the Wolf).

But the quirky sensibilities of Shanley, a playwright at heart, were an uncomfortable fit in Hollywood. His screenwriting career was inconsistent at best before he returned his focus fully to the stage.

But, oh, there's that one exception: 1990's Joe Versus the Volcano, written and directed by Shanley and starring Tom Hanks.

At the time, reviewers and audiences chalked up Volcano as yet another silly comedy in which Hanks was wasting the skills he showed off a couple of years earlier in Big.

In fact, Volcano is thoughtful, intriguing and at times wonderfully funny.

Hanks is great, and if anything his performance is a clear indication of what he'd soon accomplish in Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.

Granted, Volcano also is utterly insane, an artsy hodgepodge of metaphors and symbolism mixed with broad, even slapstick, humor. The ending is a copout. But the dialogue is endlessly quotable, and it's packed with entertaining performances by Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ossie Davis, Abe Vigoda and Dan Hedaya, among others.

Volcano is a million miles away from the thoughtful drama of Doubt. But if you catch Doubt and you're curious to see a very different side of Shanley, give it a try.

Why 21? Got me

Here's some news about Tampa Theatre, which is regularly featured in this column.

The venerated venue was named one of "America's 21 Wonders" in the latest issue of Life magazine, a weekly news supplement. You can find Life in today's St. Petersburg Times.

It happens that this also is the last print version of Life, which is folding. But it reportedly will keep plugging online as life.com.

Just take it as proof of Life after death.

'Beatles' was taken

Finally, I have to note that St. Petersburg's State Theatre - a legendary forum for independent rock groups - has an interesting lineup tonight. Well, interestingly named, at least.

The headliner is the Locust, which will take the stage after three other bands - Cattle Decapitation, Daughters and Yip-Yip.

Just FYI, I caught a little of Yip-Yip - two guys in checkerboard costumes, playing repetitive electronica - a few weeks ago at the Crowbar club in Ybor City, and it was ... well, let's leave it at "interesting."

But even then, Yip-Yip was playing with the impressively energetic Japanese prog-rock trio Green Milk From the Planet Orange.

Which brings us to the point: Daughters, if you want to stand out in this crowd, it might be time to think of a new name.

Personally, I'm still partial to "Oedipal Underwear." But, hey, your call.

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431. He also posts online at http://blogs.tampabay.com/juice/.

[Last modified April 19, 2007, 06:59:24]


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