BWW Review: DOUBT at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center
A long time ago, my drama professor told me that "the surest sign of a good play is that you leave the theater thinking about something other than where you parked your car". This particular quote nicely summarizes the strengths of Doubt, playing through September 16th at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center.
Set in 1964 in a Bronx Catholic school, Doubt tells the story of the no-nonsense, stoic principal Sister Aloysius (Susan Kresge) and her ongoing battle with the affable, progressive Father Flynn (Brian Noffke). Aloysius suspects Father Flynn of an improper relationship with one of the students, after the young Sister James (Michaela Naulty) tells her that the boy came back to class upset, with alcohol on his breath after spending alone time with Flynn in the parish rectory.
Flynn explains that the situation is not as it seems, that the boy was caught drinking communion wine. Flynn chose to keep the event a secret to avoid him from being removed from the altar boys. Aloysius does not believe the priest and sets out to do everything in her power to remove Father Flynn from the school based solely on her suspicions and hunches. A meeting with the boy's mother, Mrs. Muller (Yolanda Dwyer) does not go as planned, and seems to cause more problems than it solves.
The acting in Doubt is consistently top-notch in this cast of four, which can be expected on the EPAC stage. Noffke plays Father Flynn as friendly and open-minded. However, he brings out the justifiable anger in the character when pushed. Kresge's Sister Aloysius is intense and forceful. Both her mannerisms and her voice are stiff and pointed, appropriate for the character. Her believable Bronx accent lends an additional layer of gruffness.
Naulty's Sister James is young, vibrant and optimistic. She yearns for the best in her students, and is eager to please her superiors. Sister James does not come off as overly-naive, which is a credit to Naulty's acting choices. Yolanda Dwyer rounds out the cast in a relatively small,but very powerful role as the boy's mother.
Director, Kenneth Seigh is to be commended in the staging of the show. Although the show is dialogue heavy, the pace was excellent and engaged the audience consistently. Kudos also for playing up a lot of the embedded humor in the show. This was a great way to break up some of the story's ongoing tension.
The crew also did an excellent job, especially set designer Jordan Jonata. The majority of the play took place, realistically set, in the principal's office. However, an immense gray cross loomed off stage right. This symbolic and stylistic bold addition reminds us of the overwhelming presence of God everywhere and in all that we do.
One of the most interesting concepts in the show is the ongoing dynamics and power struggles among various sub-groups. Gender, race, sexuality, and age are all indirectly examined as characters interact with each other and adhere to certain societal standards expected of them, especially in the 1960's. This works very well for the most part. My sole criticism of the production is that Father Flynn appears to a member of the same generation as Sister Aloysius. By casting a more seasoned actor as Flynn, it minimizes some of the inherent generational differences in beliefs, attitudes, and priorities that defined the Catholic Church and beyond in the turbulent 1960's.
The EPAC production of Doubt is powerful, relevant, and important. Go see it and be prepared for a show that is both thoughtful and entertaining.
Doubt runs through September 16th. Tickets and more information can be found here.