Review: DOUBT, A PARABLE at Irish Classical Theatre

Dramatic intensity leaves no doubt in this production.

By: Sep. 25, 2022
Review: DOUBT, A PARABLE at Irish Classical Theatre

Storytelling for the sake of enlightenment and teaching is what many think of when they hear of parables. Allegories intimate there is something deeper to be found under the surface. And many a Sunday preacher has used the pulpit to convey an everyday lesson to live by. John Patrick Shanley's DOUBT, A PARABLE has been a smash on Broadway in 2004 winning the Pulitzer prize and TONY Awards for Best Play and Best Lead Actress by the fabulous Cherry Jones. In 2008 it was made into a remarkable film starring Meryl Streep. And now Buffalo gets to sit attentively as the Irish Classical Theatre presents it's gripping production as the season opener.

Set during the time right after John F. Kennedy's assassination, a small Catholic school has it's moral foundation unearthed. Could a priest, complete with an Eastern seaboard accent, possibly be having an inappropriate relationship with the school's only "negro" student? The nun who is principal runs with an iron fist, and surely a heavy wooden ruler. No evil doing will happen on her watch despite how the church's hierarchy mandates such allegations be handled.

Josie DiVincenzo has been given the juicy role of principal Sister Aloysius. And while she personally must have been thrilled to sink her teeth into this part, the audience is even more thrilled in her engrossing performance. Her clipped manner of Bronx speech and command of every situation is fascinating and truly based in reality. Any former Catholic school student over the age of 50 surely has met a carbon copy of this woman. Her petite figure demands respect, and behind her horn rimmed glasses there surely are eyes that could stop anyone in their tracks.

Review: DOUBT, A PARABLE at Irish Classical Theatre
Gosselin, DiVincenzo and Copps in DOUBT

Shanley has made Sister Aloysius a complicated character, obviously molded in old school religious values and a believer in one way of doing things...her own way. Having previously been married is a plot twist that makes her even more complex. Outwardly she is a woman incapable of love but her prior life suggests otherwise.

The young nun Sister James is played by the perky Solange Gosselin. She is everything the older nun is not.... hopeful, loving and passionate about her students. The two knock heads and Sister Aloysius makes it clear that her methods are not only superior, but mandatory. Gosselin finds the right amount if anguish and naivete in her role, believing that goodness should be found in everyone.

As the sole male character, Steve Copps play Father Flynn with an inner contempt that indeed causes one to ponder whether he could have done the unspeakable with the young boy. The endless vagaries of the situation have everyone doubting what truly occurred behind the closed doors of the parish rectory. Copps effortlessly slides into the role as the powerful priest who believes he is above reproach as gives sermons as interludes during the 90 minute play. He appears to be a good guy but is he a devil in sheep's clothing?

Davida Evette Tolbert gives an engrossing performance as the young boy's mother. Her performance starts meek and reserved but boils up with a genuine intensity that was palpable. While Sister Aloysius is an imposing personality, Tolbert rose to the occasion with dignity as she stated her own personal case regarding what her son may have endured and why a blind eye needs to be turned.

Review: DOUBT, A PARABLE at Irish Classical Theatre
Tolbert in DOUBT

Shanley's script allows each of the four characters their own times to shine, but the confrontation scene between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn created a dramatic intensity that perceptibly felt in the intimate confines of this theatre in the round. DiVincenzo masterfully brings Copps to his knees, him begging for her sympathy. But this cold nun will have none of it and she spews her lines and retorts back to him with a calculated calmness that had the audience breathless.

The facts behind the predatory nature of the Catholic clergy upon young boys are not a foreign concept to Buffalo's audiences. DOUBT clearly states that the monsignor and church elders were not receptive to acting on these pedophiles in 1964. Alas, not much improvement was seen in the following 5 decades either. Even a superior nun had her limitations, but Shanley has fashioned such a strong protagonist in Sister Aloysius that by the play's conclusion, the concept of doubt becomes universal.

Director Victoria Perez guides the strong cast, as the exposition to the dramatic events is a slow burn. When these religious characters are allowed to break from their presumed confines of the religious life, the tale ignites.

Lighting by Jayson Clark and costumes by Lise Harty anchored the drama in a cold setting. Against a backdrop of rigid and sparse set pieces by Sheila M. Lopez and the dying foliage as winter approaches, the audience is left to make their own inferences as to where the truth in this story lies. As in any parable, finding a deeper meaning to the text is not always as crystal clear as one hopes.

DOUBT, A PARABLE plays at Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre though October 9, 2022. Contact for more information.