Review: DOUBT: A PARABLE at Altarena Playhouse

Now through June 30th

By: Jun. 03, 2024
Review: DOUBT: A PARABLE at Altarena Playhouse
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One thing is for sure, Altarena Playhouse has a hit on its hands with DOUBT. Thoughtful, engaging, and provocative, the show is a masterpiece of details. In a world where some things should be black and white, DOUBT plants the tiniest seed of uncertainty that grows to envelope the entire story. You’ll change your mind, and change your mind again as the show will leave you ever dubious and always with a margin of DOUBT.

Doubt: A Parable is the 2005 play by John Patrick Shanley that explores what happens when a nun and principal at a Catholic school in the Bronx in the 1960s has suspicions of an inappropriate relationship between a priest, Father Flynn, and one of its young, male students. Sister Aloysius is the no-frills, no excuses, and very serious principal of the school. She recruits Sister James, a young malleable teacher, to be on the watch. When Sister James reports that she has seen Father Flynn conduct a meeting alone in the Rectory with a young male student, it begins the spiral of suspicion that will consume Sister Aloysius’ every thought. She plots a confrontation with Father Flynn that results in a plausible but not exculpatory explanation.The stakes escalate as Father Flynn preaches a sermon on rumors and how damaging gossip can be. Sister Aloysius takes one last shot at discovering the truth, but the gamble could also cost her her job.

The cast of DOUBT presents a workshop in nuance. From a single arched brow to a slight tilt of the head, every aspect of their performance is intentional and full of purpose.  Billie J. Simmons makes a big impact with the role of Mrs. Muller. Her cadence and measured words give the feel of a woman who has much to say beyond their carefully chosen words. Anna Kosiarek as Sister James is sneaky. You think it’s a simple character, but she quickly shows you that even naivety and kindness have depths and shadows. Thomas Hutchinson as Father Brendan Flynn walks the very fine line of a character of uncertain character. Sometimes I wanted a bigger heated reaction from him, but also felt his tempered responses were a large part of what painted the ambiguity at the heart of the show. His eyes vacillated from shades of darkness to righteous indignation, only leaving me to sink further in doubt. While the show is centered on doubt, there is no doubt who is the star of the show. Katina Psihos Letheule commands the stage and delivers every line with fierce intention. The dogged determination of Sister Aloysius and the high stakes at hand is evident in every word. Yet, it is the humor that she brings to the role  that makes the performance a masterpiece.

Director Shannon Nicholson has the cast working together in perfect timing. Her clear vision has the cast all pulling in the same direction. Despite the little need for movement, Nicholson stages the scenes in such a way that the energy replaces the need for movement. Scenic Artist Jeremy Letheule has created a set that contains both the spartan austerity of a religious order and the ornament beauty of places of worship. Lighting design by Kevin Myrick is subtle but enhances the mood throughout the show without hitting you over the head with symbolism. 

This is not a show where you sit back, relax, and enjoy. It is a show where you sit up, lean forward, and engage. Every word, every look, every little thing is a clue and reveals how many layers there are to peel away before you can find the truth. It is a thinkers show, and holds you in rapt attention with seemingly little effort. You may never be sure who is right and who is wrong, but be sure to get your tickets while they last!


 




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