It’s been a movie with Meryl Streep and a Broadway play, but the close quarters of Lantern Theater Company might just be the perfect stage for the Tony-winning “Doubt.”
“It’s a great play for this space, which is so intimate,” says lead Ben Dibble, who has a long list of acting credits in Philly theater. “Nobody in the audience is going to be more than 20 or 30 feet from the actors at any time, so you really get pulled in.
“You get to be a part of it — without being implicated,” he adds with a laugh.
And who off stage would want to be implicated in this plot?
Dibble plays Father Flynn, a “very gregarious, very charming young parish priest” at a parochial school in the Bronx in 1964, around the time of the Second Vatican Council, which updated – even relaxed – some of the old structure of the Catholic Church.
“He’s very much a Vatican II kind of guy,” Dibble says of the character. “He loves teaching, he loves having a common touch with his students — he’s not keeping a sense of distance from them, elevating himself above his parish.”
On the opposite end of the scale is the school’s conservative principal, Sister Aloysius. “She’s very structured, vey emotionally removed. She has an old school approach,” Dibble describes. “She thinks he needs to keep his distance, to have a strong hand with the children.”
The tension between them erupts when the nun convinces herself that Father Flynn has an inappropriate relationship with the school’s first black student. She’s certain, but she has no proof.
Sister Aloysius is played by Mary Martello, like Dibble a Barrymore Award-winning veteran of the local theater scene. They’ve performed in several shows together. “The challenge of a play like this, with scenes that get very confrontational,” Dibble jokes, “is we have to remember we don’t like each other. Usually you want that trust in the other actor. But here you have to honor the play – you have to be uncomfortable.”
You’ve been in so many shows. Do you ever find that people recognize you as one character and have trouble seeing you as a different one?
I’ve had the opposite experience. People remember a performance so they come to a new show because they want to see me do a totally different thing. I think people who recognize me, and other local actors, enjoy seeing us do a variety of roles.
I did “Batboy, the Musical” 11 years ago – I played a half boy, half bat, crawling around on the set —and people never forget me as Batboy. [Laughs] Or younger people run into me and say, “Hey, were you the toad in [‘A Year with] Frog and Toad’?” Animal roles seem to be iconic for me.
‘Doubt: A Parable’
Through Feb. 15
St. Stephen’s Theater
923 Ludlow St.