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‘Doubt’ actor draws from family history

“Doubt: A Parable” closes this weekend at Columbia Center for the Arts.

Shows are in the CAST Theater on May 17-19, at 7:30 p.m. The play runs 90 minutes, with no intermission.

“Doubt” was written by John Patrick Shanley and directed by Judie Hanel. Desiree Amyx-Mackintosh portrays Sister Aloysius, Isabel Martin plays Sister James, and Joe Garoutte portrays Father Flynn in the story, set at St. Nicholas Catholic school in 1964 on the cusp of the Second Vatican Council. The play involves a nun, Sister Aloysius, who does not approve of teachers who offer friendship and compassion instead of the discipline she feels students need in order to face a difficult world.

When she suspects Father Flynn of an unspeakable crime, she is faced with the prospect of charging him with unproved allegations and possibly destroying his position as well as her own. She enlists Sister James, and also turns to a student’s mother, Mrs. Nakamura, to build her case.

Mrs. Nakamura is played by Linda Kaplan whose maiden name was chosen for the part (Muller in the original script). Kaplan recently spoke of the racism that her own family experienced and how it connects to the small but critical role.

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“Doubt” is Kaplan’s first production in 15 years. She had acted for several years in San Francisco with Asian Theater Works and other small theaters in the 1990s before starting a family; she has a son, 10.

Kaplan said that in the personal history she developed for Mrs. Nakamura, she had been interned in the camps during World War II, which her own parents experienced.

They were interned at Tule Lake Camp in California. Her father was a college student in Texas and suffered a stroke while in school, so he moved back to Sacramento in 1941. He was interned at Tule Lake, where he met his future bride, and the incarceration embittered him for the rest of his life.

Her parents were both “no-no’s,” meaning that in a loyalty questionnaire Japanese-Americans were made to take in 1942, they neither vowed to serve in the U.S. military nor renounce allegiance to Japan. Tule Lake, the harshest of the camps, was reserved for “no-nos,” and her parents were among the last released from Tule Lake.

Asked how this influenced her role as Mrs. Nakamura, Kaplan said, “Nothing in a direct sort of way but it’s sort of an underpinning just knowing what they had to go through and what they gave up.

“Really it was my dad I think of a lot of times when I’m in a role where the internment has any bearing. He said ‘If this is how they treat Americans I’m going to Japan,’ and he went to Japan for a while, but there he was an American. This was shortly after the war and obviously they were not that friendly in those days.

“He was always a bit of a bitter man. I was born 10 years after the war, and I didn’t know why he was that way, until much later.

“It’s only in retrospect, I realize it was the times my parents went through and the Depression, even in an indirect way my father’s bitterness, of course, that would have impacted my family life and the way I was brought up, just down the line.”

Hanel works with each actor to come up with a back story for their character, and Kaplan said she knew that Mrs. Nakamura herself would have incarcerated.

“She would have been 18 at the time, a formative time for her as an American citizen to be thrown in the camps, and have her family lose everything.

“(Mrs. Nakamura) is a woman who really, really loves her son and is a very strong advocate for him, a woman who is working under enormous constraints and, through no fault of her own, is living in a fairly narrow world, and because of her poverty and her race she has every few options.”

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