Since John Patrick Shanley’s controversial play “Doubt: A Parable” burst onto Broadway in 2005 after a short off-Broadway run, it has racked up numerous theater awards (2005 Tony Award for Best Play, 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) and was made into a film in 2008. The play, produced by the Thingamajig Theatre Company, opens this Friday, May 18, at Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.
But the play has something that the film lacked: More subtlety, more nuance, more “doubt,” if you will, as to whether or not Father Flynn is the progressive, caring priest he seems to be, or is guilty of misconduct with a troubled boy, Donald Mueller, the only African-American student at St. Nicholas Church School in 1964 Bronx.
Such is the charge leveled at him by self-righteous, conservative nun, Sister Aloysius (Laura Moore), the school’s principal. She seems hell-bent on condemning everything from the teaching of the arts to allowing students even the slightest bit of slack in the classroom. She is a forbidding presence that brings a force of rigid moral authoritarianism to the piece.
Father Flynn (Tim Moore), a native of the Bronx, is compassionate, full of vitality and eagerness to help move the church toward a less-structured future. Sister James (Anna Hershey), the impressionable young nun, is just beginning her work at St. Nicholas, under strict orders from Sister Aloysius to put more “starch” in her character and be alert in class. While Mrs. Mueller, Donald’s mother, is only featured for 10 minutes in the play, her revelations leave an indelible impression.
One subtle action deftly demonstrates the entrenched hierarchy of the Catholic Church in 1964. Father Flynn is Sister Aloysius’ superior. She is in charge of the school, he, the church. When he self-assuredly walks into Sister Aloysius’s office and sits down behind her desk in her chair, it’s clear that in this time and place, there is a very strict pecking order.
“Doubt” is a riveting play that grabs the audience at the start and doesn’t let go until the very final words. It’s almost a courtroom drama as Sister Aloysius cunningly tries to maneuver Father Flynn into a confession. The audience becomes the judge and jury — but of Father Flynn or Sister Aloysius? In every scene, maybe every moment of the play, we have to interpret the guilt or innocence of each.
The 90-minute play is done without an intermission — it’s vital that the tension in the tug-of-war between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius not be broken.
Shanley’s “Doubt’”is an unusually thought-provoking play. It’s no wonder that it won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony and that the film later went on to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote that the play, “is an inspired study in moral uncertainty with the compellingly certain structure of an old-fashioned detective drama. Even as Doubt holds your conscious attention as an intelligently measured debate play, it sends off stealth charges that go deeper emotionally.
Doubt is a stimulating night of theatre that will give you much to talk about.
“Doubt: A Parable,” opens May 18 and runs through June 3 at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts. The show is appropriate for audiences age 13 plus. May 18 Champagne Opening tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. All other performances are $15 with advance purchase or $20 at the door. To make a reservation, visit www.pagosacenter.org or call 731-SHOW. “Doubt: A Parable” is produced by Thingamajig Theatre Company and sponsored by Citizen’s Bank and the Pagosa Springs SUN.