‘Doubt’ Is a Riveting Parable for the Ages (Solares Hill)

‘Doubt’ Is a Riveting Parable for the Ages (Solares Hill)

Posted Mon, Feb 2, 2009 in Reviews

‘What do you do when you’re not sure?” Father Brendan Flynn (David Black) asks the congregation of St. Nicholas Church in the opening scene of John Patrick Shanley’s prize-winning drama “Doubt, A Parable,” playing at the Waterfront Playhouse through February 14.

Brilliant in its minimal staging, so authentic in its set design by Michael Boyer, I automatically looked for stoups containing holy water. “Doubt” boasts first-rate performances and Danny Weathers’ exacting direction. It is must-see theater.

With her stern demeanor and pinched face, the principal of St. Nicholas school, Sister Aloysius (Joy Hawkins) suspects Father Flynn of inappropriate contact with a boy called Donald Muller, the schools “first negro student.” Hawkins’ steely portrayal of the resolute nun is so convincing that one imagines a ruler in her hand (although, in fact, ballpoint pens, not rulers, are her obsession).

Infused with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, Father Flynn practices an “accessible” approach to his student charges and adult congregants, an approach in sharp contrast to Sister Aloysius’ no nonsense, no coddling dictum. The scenes between the contumacious nun and the charismatic priest, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing, provide spellbinding theater dramatically heightened by an always present, subtly menacing misogyny. Black’s portrayal of Father Flynn is riveting.

Torn between the two warring factions is Sister James (Elena Devers) whose devotion and affection for her students is seen as a liability by Sister Aloysius, who chides Sister James for her innocence. “Innocent teachers are easily duped,” grumbles Aloysius. Devers perfectly captures Sister James’ conflicted allegiance to Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius. Her young nun does, however, come into herself as, in defiance of Sister Aloysius, she boldly reclaims her passion for teaching and history.

Certainly the most surprising scene — shocking would work equally well here — occurs between Sister Aloysius and Mrs. Muller, Donald’s mother. The scheming Aloysius invites Mrs. Muller to her office to share her concerns regarding Father Flynn and young Donald. Mrs. Muller, played with flinty pragmatism and a quiet but commanding dignity by Miami actor Lela Elam, does not respond as expected.

Of this I am certain, “Doubt, A Parable” is dramatic theatre at its finest. Don’t miss it. Tickets at 294-5015.

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