Doubt%2c+a+Review


Photos by K. Ouellette
Reviewed by Joseph L. Lewis

Director Susan Craves examines the boundary between uncertainty and faith in John Patrick Shanley's play, Doubt, a Parable. The historical backdrop of this story illustrates a time in which the American society begins a slow shift from the conservative 1950's to the revolutionary 1960's. Set in the Bronx during 1964, shortly after the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy and right before Lyndon B. Johnson enacts the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Doubt, a Parable, illustrates a nation's response to a changing society, including the fear associated with that change. The strict, conservative Sister Aloysius Beauvier personifies this fear, as she questions the relationship between a progressive priest and a student.

Sister Aloysius, the principal at St. Nicolas Catholic School, begins to suspect malfeasance between Father Brendan Flynn and David Muller, the first African American student to ever be admitted into the predominately Irish/Italian Catholic school. Her suspicions, along with her commanding influence over the impressionable new teacher Sister James, encapsulates not only the fear of a generational shift from a Post-World War II generation to the Baby Boomer generation, but also the fear of a fully racially-integrated society. Both of these possibilities are linked to the possible downfall of the Catholic Church.

Craves presents her interpretation of this poignant story at the Bay City Players, superbly incorporating a proactive story about universal truth and one's attempt to hold onto their sense of it. She also explores how an individual's concept of Truth affects the lives of others.

The rich and compelling story is brilliantly interpreted by not only a great director, but also a great cast of players. Tamara Charles's performance as Mrs. Muller introduces a whirlwind of emotions for the audience. For example, once Sister Aloysius raises concerns about the relationship between Muller's son and Flynn, Muller becomes indifferent, expressing to Sister Aloysius that all her son must do is "make it until June," when David will move into high school. One could not help but feel resentment towards the mother's "do whatever it takes" attitude; at the same time, one is forced to sympathize with her circumstance. All she wants is a positive future for her son and is unfortunately willing to compromise his innocence as a result.

The role of Sister James, played by Maria Vos, comes across as truly genuine. Sister James represents the progressive younger generation that Sister Aloysius is intent on combating. Like Mrs. Muller, the audience can sympathize with her peculiar position: she tries to exercise a sense of compassion, despite challenges from Sister Aloysius's suspicions. Here, Vos does a good job at portraying a young woman who is torn between the possibilities of a new progressive culture and an old tradition.

Cameron Pichan in the role of Father Flynn is equally compelling. Father Flynn represents a progressive generation searching to change traditional ways. Nevertheless, Pichan's performance forces the audience to question Flynn's motives. Father Flynn is less impressionable than Sister James, and is seemingly a man of the world, which gives Sister Aloysius cause to question his intent. Along with this, the dynamic between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius suggests the awareness of a male-dominated society. When Sister Aloysius accuses Father Flynn of any wrongdoing, she is forced to accept the possibility of his promotion rather than the possibility of his demotion.

After a four-year hiatus from the theater troop, Bay City Player veteran Margaret Bird returns to fill the powerful role of Sister Aloysius. Her suspicions not only have the audience questioning the intentions of Father Flynn, but also the intentions of so-called progressive society. Bird portrays a woman who is worried about this universal demise while secretly worried about the demise of her own faith. This is evidently true at the climatic conclusion when Sister Aloysius tells Sister James, "I have so much doubt!"

All in all, the character performances of Doubt, a Parable by the Bay City Players are all stunning. I did, nevertheless, wonder about the overall timing and execution. Even though the cast members demonstrated great chemistry, many of their lines were delivered too quickly, which compromised the moodiness of this powerful and heart-wrenching story. While this is true, there was an underlying comedic tone throughout the development of the play that made up for the rushed execution.

Doubt, a Parable attempts to illustrate the possibilities of a changing society and one person's decision to test the morality of a society and suffer the consequences as a result of this decision. The performances will leave one guessing: The splendid beauty of this dramatic story rests on the presence of ambiguity while forcing the audience to challenge preconceived notions of truth and how far one is willing to go to preserve that sense of truth. Susan Craves and the Bay City Players successfully achieve a dynamic adaptation of this intriguing parable.

© Joseph L. Lewis, 2010