Thursday, February 23, 2012

Show & Tell Review: Doubt: A Parable

True to its name, Doubt: A Parable leaves its audience with plenty to think about when the night is over. It’s a simple story with no clear answers. Set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School, in the Bronx, in the early 1960s, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt delivers an intense 90-minute story that keeps the audience almost breathless in anticipation of what is to come.

When the iron-fisted school principal, Sister Aloysius, learns from a younger nun and teacher, Sister James, that Father Brendan Flynn has had a one-on-one meeting with the school’s only African American student, Donald Muller, she immediately jumps to the conclusion that Father Flynn’s intentions were less than pure. When confronted, Father Flynn denies any wrongdoing saying that he caught the boy drinking the communion wine and was trying to save him the embarrassment of being removed from the altar boys.

Sister James is relieved by Father Flynn’s explanation and believes him. Sister Aloysius, however, is not satisfied and calls Donald’s mother in for a conference. Donald’s mother reveals to Sister Aloysius that the boy is continuously beaten while at home and expresses her desire to get him through the school year when he will move on to the high school. She begs Sister Aloysius to let him be.

When Father Flynn threatens to have Sister Aloysius removed if she doesn’t back down, she tells him that she has called his last parish and has learned of past infringements. Again, Father Flynn declares his innocence. When she refuses to believe him, Father Flynn calls the bishop asking for a transfer. He receives a transfer and a promotion. Learning this, Sister Aloysius reveals to Sister James that her phone call was a lie, and she is left with nothing but doubt.

Sister Aloysius is not the only one left with doubt. Since no clear answers are given, the audience is left to make its own assumptions. Was Sister Aloysius the iron-fisted, unchangeable cold person we thought she was … or was she a hero, protecting and defending the children in her school? Was Father Flynn the gentle, kind-hearted pastor … or was he a monster and a child molester?

The minimal cast of four is perfectly suited for their roles and delivers the story as if there were dozens of characters in the production. As serious as this topic is, the performance was peppered with small doses of humor that contributed to the believability of the characters. Additionally, the simple set and lack of scenery changes allowed the audience to focus on the story without distraction. The clever use of lighting contributed to the feel of the stage and gave the impression that scenery was changing even when things barely moved.

My initial reaction to this play and its simplistic nature was that it was lacking the “wow” factor. And, if you compare it to a musical like Cats or Phantom of the Opera, I suppose it was. I didn’t leave the Center exhilarated and over stimulated. I left deep in thought – and I’m still thinking about it today. The bottom line is the cast of Doubt delivered a flawless and powerful performance that left me with far more to think about than any other production I’ve seen. The more I think about it, it didn’t lack that “wow” factor. It was there. I just needed to see it for what it was. And, if there is one thing I learned from Doubt … don’t jump to conclusions or make premature judgments.

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