Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Doubt: A Parable
Also see Susan's review of The Book Club Play
The setting is a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy and early in the modernization of the Church that followed the Second Vatican Council. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Brigid Cleary), principal of St. Nicholas School, is determined to maintain the old ways of order and control. Her opposite, in both temperament and philosophy, is Father Brendan Flynn (James Denvil), a man who wants to make his church less forbidding to his parishioners and more like a family.
The drama revolves around Sister Aloysius' growing belief that Father Flynn is molesting the school's first African-American student. Shanley has written the play in such a way that he never reveals which side of the situation is the truth, placing the audience in the same unease and confusion as the characters.
Cleary's performance is straightforward, allowing the audience to see the self-deception of a person who considers herself an avenger while excusing her own small lapses in truth for what she feels is a higher good. ("In the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God," she explains.) Denvil is magnetic and seemingly guileless, showing the sense of entitlement that comes from the fact that, in his world, nuns are necessarily subservient to priests.
The other cast members help to form a strong ensemble: Deidra LaWan Starnes as the boy's mother, who brings a third perspective to the situation, and Patricia Hurley as the young teacher Sister James, forced to choose between Father Flynn's appealing, if not necessarily genuine, openness and Sister Aloysius' austerity.
James Wolk's set design allows for flexible shifts between scenes in the 90-minute play, enhanced by Dennis Parichy's lighting design.
Olney Theatre Center
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or www.olneytheatre.org