BWW Review: DOUBT: A PARABLE at Quotidian Theatre Company
Playwright John Patrick Shanley's play about a nun that goes head to head with a priest premiered Off-Broadway in 2004. Doubt went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award and was later turned into an Academy Award-nominated film starring Meryl Streep. Yes, that Meryl Streep.
Doubt defies traditional theatrical parameters. It is as relevant today as it was 13 or even 50 years ago in its own fictional past.
Doubt is set in 1964 in the blue-collar parish of St. Nicholas in the Bronx in New York City. Outside the insular parish of St. Nicholas the Catholic Church is reverberating in the wake of Vatican II. Millions of Catholics worldwide are trembling at the intersection of traditionalism and reformation.
QTC's four-person production is lean. Set Designer Colin Dieck's stage is a two-level exemplar of Catholic asceticism, an aesthetic with which I am all too familiar. Sheer black curtains demarcate the stage and a fabricated stonewall separates the convent courtyard from the elevated Principal's office.
Costume Designer's Stephanie Mumford and Kecia Campbell may have had a reasonably easy time chasing down a Priest's collar but have gone above and beyond to replicate the deceptive simplicity of a 1960s nun's Habit in all it's antique glory.
Father Flynn (Elliott Kashner) is St. Nicholas' young and progressive priest with a "hands-on" philosophy. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (QTC co-founder Stephanie Mumford), a Sister of Charity of New York and Principal of the parish school of St. Nicholas, embodies the traditionalist pre-Vatican II Catholic Church.
On high alert for signs of inappropriante interactions, Sister Aloysius becomes convinced that Father Flynn is seducing an eighth-grade boy named Donald Muller. The patriarchal hierarchy of the Catholic Church (as well as her unwillingness to expose the Catholic Church to criticism) precludes the Sister from reporting Father Flynn to the Bishop. So she resolves to confront Father Flynn herself.
Her suspicions are buoyed by circumstantial evidence provided by Sister James (the apple-cheeked Chelsea Mayo). Torn between the rigidity of Sister Aloysius' conformist dogma and the liberal Father Flynn, Sister James is a vehicle for the audience's doubt.
The Catholic Church aside, Doubt investigates themes of racism in America. Donald Muller is St. Nicholas' first African American student. Is Father Flynn grooming a marginalized child or is he merely safeguarding a vulnerable child in a manner that is unrecognizable and inappropriate in the eyes of Sister Aloysius?
As QTC espouses and Father Flynn confirms, real-life is messy. Doubt is a play without an ending.
I tend to shy away from gushing about actors but Kashner's performance is stellar, a standout. Kashner's Father Flynn radiates magnetism. He is a dead ringer for every "cool" priest I ever knew growing up - and trusted implicitly.
Mumford is a forceful and unwavering Sister Aloysius. Kecia A. Campbell makes a brief but memorable appearance as Donald Muller's mother. Mayo's performance as the frustrated ingenue is adequate but one-dimensional.
Director Stevie Zimmerman's Doubt is a somber, fast-moving production. Humor exists but is sparse and the production ends abruptly. At QTC there is no reliance on special effects; just the way I like it but more importantly here, a philosophy that suites this austere play about a religious community in turmoil.
DOUBT: A PARABLE runs until May 7th , 2016 at Quotidian Theatre Company at The Writer's Center located at 4508 Walsh St, Bethesda, MD, 20815. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 838-3006 Ext. 1 or visit here. Discounted tickets available for students and senior.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission