A Play Well Done, No Doubt

I can recall, when John Patrick Shanley's play "Doubt: A Parable," first appeared on Broadway in 2005, how critics focused on the issue that, at least on the surface, appears to be the heart of the play--the scandal of Catholic priests abusing young boys.

That's the unspoken evil that Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Sherrionne Brown) is willing to risk everything to combat, but in fact, is only incidental. This isn't a play about crusading nuns fighting to expose a renegade priest in the Bronx in 1964.  It's a play about...well, doubt.

It's the doubt Sister James (Karina Ferry) harbors toward Sister Aloysius' drill sergeant philosophy of teaching. It's the doubt Father Flynn (Michael Leicht) explores as he delivers his sermon to the congregation of the fictitious St. Nicholas Church--does doubt provide us a bond "as strong as certainty" as he asserts? It's the doubts that plague Sister Aloysius' regards her own understanding of the world beyond the walls of the school she presides.  It's the doubt Mrs.  Muller (Nicole Mullins) feels toward Sr. Aloysius--is it more important to her to ruin the priest or help her son? And it's the doubt that Shanley seeks to instill in the audience as to who is in the right in this play...is Father Flynn guilty? Is Sister Aloyisius wrong in her crusade to "bring down" Father Flynn based on nothing more than her belief?

And note that Shanley titled his play not simply "Doubt," but "Doubt: A Parable"--a parable being a  brief  tale designed to make an ethical or moral point, as in the parables told by Jesus in the New Testament. Parables are designed to make us think, question, debate, and in the process, to learn and garner wisdom. 

Father Flynn  prefers  parables to reality, noting "The truth makes for a bad sermon. It tends to be confusing and have no clear conclusion." Father Flynn preaches parables in a play that is a parable itself. And here there is irony, as a parable about doubt serves only to offer no clear conclusion, for that is the very nature of doubt. And in yet another layer of irony, Shanley presents his parable using characters religious--people of faith...who are in the business of believing without empirical evidence... for whom the spectre of doubt, in the hearts of those they seek to comfort and convert, and in themselves, haunts them daily.

It's a wonderfully written, succinct (90 minutes without intermission) and elegant play, sprinkled with moments of humor (Sr. Aloysius' ability to spy heresy in "Frosty the Snowman" and moral decadence in ballpoint pens), winner of  both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The only question is, how effective and entertaining is the Spotlighters' interpretation? Happily, right on target, have no doubt.

Spotlighter staples Leicht, Brown and Ferry, and Mullins as Mrs. Muller deliver strong, engaging performances. Leicht is commanding as a priest who seems sincere in his desire to modernize the Church, to be part of the congregation rather than above it. His character never stays at the pulpit, but walks down to the stage as if to be closer to his flock. Ferry is the right combination of sweet innocence but passionate conviction. Brown's Aloysius could easily become a "one note wonder," a stereotypical "Catholic school nun from Hell," but makes her much more than that, as a woman torn in many directions, firm as a rock at one moment but faltering the next, as in her exchange with Mrs. Muller. Mullins' Muller is Motherhood personified...for her, it all begins and ends with what is best for her son, a fierceness seen in her voice, her facial expressions, her body language--she's as much a stalwart as Sr. Aloysius.

The Spotlighters does an admirable job in creating multiple venues-- the school principal's office, a church pulpit, a courtyard--in their diminutive space. The small details, like an "old school" pencil sharpener, the hanging portraits of Pope John XXIII and Holy Mother Seton, even the potted plants not yet ready to bloom, are all spot on.

"Doubt: A Parable" continues its run at the Spotlighters Theatre, 817  St. Paul Street, May 15, 20-21, 27-29, June 3-5 and June 9-12, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $16 for students. For more information, call 410-752-1225 or visit www.spotlighters.org.


The Strand Theater Company Concludes its Season With R/J Photo
The Strand Theater Company Concludes its Season With R/J

The Strand Theater Company concludes its 15th Anniversary Season as Baltimore’s women-centric company with the devised production of R/J, conceived by Baltimore artists Betse Lyons and O’Malley Steuerman. 

Maryland Theatre Collective Sets Casts for AGNES OF GOD, RAGTIME IN CONCERT, And THE COLLE Photo

The Maryland Theatre Collective has announced casting and production teams for their next three events of the 2023/2024 season!

Salome Smith Joins Cast of THE WORLD GOES ROUND at Everyman Theatre Photo
Salome Smith Joins Cast of THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND at Everyman Theatre

The World Goes ‘Round, which celebrates the extraordinary musical legacy of John Kander and Fred Ebb, the songwriting duo behind multiple Tony-award winning shows such as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spiderwoman, adds additional vocal power to its cast when Salome B. Smith joins the Everyman production onstage June 6 – July 2.

Preview Maryland Ensemble Theatres 2023-24 Season in June Photo
Preview Maryland Ensemble Theatre's 2023-24 Season in June

Catch a sneak peak of Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s upcoming 2023-2024 season at MET’s Annual Season Preview on June 27th at Steinhardt Brewing along beautiful Carroll Creek.

From This Author - Daniel Collins

A communications professional since 1984, Dan Collins was a theater critic for The Baltimore Examiner daily newspaper (2006-2009), covering plays throughout the Baltimore-Columbia area including Cente... (read more about this author)


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