BWW Review: DOUBT at Ocean State Theatre Company
In the five years since arriving in their brand new space in Warwick, Ocean State Theatre Company has quickly become among the top tier of theater companies in our region, consistently producing plays and musicals of the highest quality. That trend continues with their current riveting production of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt: A Parable.
In the more-than-ten years since it won the Pulitzer, Shanley's work has become a familiar sight on stages across the country. It's easy to see why it's produced so often, considering how powerful and relevant its story always has been and still is today. That story takes place at a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. Sister Aloysius, who is the principal of the school, begins to suspect that one of the priests, Father Flynn, may be engaging in an inappropriate relationship with one of the young boys at the school. Matters are complicated by the fact that the boy also happens to be the only African-American student.
While the very relevant and relatable themes are part of the play's success, Shanley's writing also plays a big role in that regard. His characters are deeply real and instantly recognizable. There is no flirting with caricature or melodrama. They speak and sound exactly as you would expect them to and express emotions and thoughts that most, if not all, the audience will have had themselves at some point in their lives. Shanley also keeps things tight and precise, cutting out the unnecessary fat in this relatively short script. Every line, every moment, every scene, hold important weight and move the story and characters forward.
OSTC's Producing Artistic Director Amiee Turner is at the helm as director and it is typically outstanding work. Her touch is light here, as she trusts Shanley's words and her actors to carry the day. There is actually very little movement as characters often spend entire scenes sitting next to each other or simply standing in one place. That is a strength of the production, though, as it allows the actors to flex their talent in expression through words and emotions and allows Shanleys' words to have the focus they deserve without the distraction of unnecessary movement. There are a few too many times when Sister Aloysius is standing with her back to the audience and her face out of view, which may be nitpicking, but little things tend to stand out during a production where everything else is so finely tuned.
That overall excellence of course extends to the fine ensemble as well. As Sister Aloysius, Donna Sorbello is the perfect picture of stern, conservative toughness, discipline and control. At the same time, Sorbello allows those important and necessary moments of doubt or uncertainty to creep believably into the Sister's eyes. At the opposite end of the spectrum emotionally is Sister James, the teacher who first reveals the situation with Father Flynn to Sister Aloysius. Where Sorbello is perfectly cold and reserved as Aloysius, Caitlin Davies brings a tidal wave of emotion to Sister James. She is in nearly constant turmoil over what is happening to Father Flynn and the young boy and her faith and innocence are tested throughout the play. While she occasionally borders on over-the-top, Davies creates a character who is truthfully sympathetic and relatable.
In the most nuanced and multi-layered performance of the production, Greg London is fantastic as Father Flynn. In every moment, no matter what he's saying or doing, there's an undercurrent to Father Flynn, something that's simmering underneath, perfectly portrayed by London, who keeps the audience wondering. At times, when the audience is ready to love and cheer for him, London turns on a dime and puts suspicion and doubt back into their minds. Lovely Hoffman rounds out the ensemble as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy who may or may not have been involved in the inappropriate relationship. Hoffman delivers some of the play's most shocking lines and moments, and does so with conviction and honesty. Her portrayal leaves the audience shocked at what the character says, but understanding why she feels she must say it.
One might think or even hope that all the shocking moments in this play shouldn't or wouldn't be all that shocking anymore. And maybe the most shocking thing is that they do still have that impact on an audience. They do still jar us into remembering that these things have continued to happen and still happen today. Those individual moments, and the play as a whole, force us to acknowledge and think about many issues which are as important today as they ever have been, including faith, trust, doubt, suspicion, race, tolerance, and others. It is still a play that demands to be seen and this is the production to see.
Doubt: A Parable will be presented at Ocean State Theatre from November 2 - 20. Performances will be held Wednesday (except November 9), Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm, with matinees on Thursdays (except November 17), Saturdays at 2:00 pm (except November 5 & 12) and Sundays at 2:00 pm. The theatre is located at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI. Tickets are $34 for preview performances, $34-$49 for all other performances except Thrifty Thursday (November 10) when all tickets are priced at a $10 discount ($24-$39). $25 "Rush" tickets are available on a limited basis one hour prior to curtain on the day of the performance. Tickets are on sale at the box office Monday through Friday from 12 noon - 6:00 pm, Saturdays from 12 noon - 4:00 pm, and from 12 noon until curtain time on performance days. Tickets are also available online 24 hours a day at www.OceanStateTheatre.org and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling (401) 921-6800.
Photo (L to R): Caitlin Davies and Donna Sorbello