Regional Reviews: Seattle
Doubt is a Certain Hit at Seattle Rep
Also see our review of It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman!
John Patrick Shanley's riveting, often humorous, thoughtful and balanced play depicts a sort of riff on Hellman's The Children's Hour set in a Bronx Catholic school in 1964. The formidable principal Sister Aloysius starts in motion a witch hunt against the seemingly upstanding, young, enthusiastic Father Flynn by calling into question his relationship with one of the students, Donald Muller, the first and so far only African American child in the school. She enlists the unsteady support of one of the young teachers, the warm but meek Sister James, to help back up her suspicions, and her brow beating confrontation with Father Flynn leaves enough doubt in the audience's mind that perhaps something improper has been occurring. But even after she succeeds in getting the priest transferred to another parish, there is no black and white wrap up. The audience is left to ponder for themselves if Sister Aloysius has rid the school of a decent compassionate priest, or a sexual predator.
Shook's well chosen cast all have merit and undoubtedly have grown as an ensemble since the opening. As Sister Aloysius, Kandis Chappell nails all the play's early laughs and captures the character's fervent self-righteousness perfectly, though on opening night it felt like she could possibly inject just a tad more of the humanity she showed in the moving final moments into earlier moments of her performance. Corey Brill is magnificent as the ever so likable, warm and charming Father Flynn, allowing just enough chinks in his emotional armor to show through. Melissa D. Brown, a few early Mary Tyler Moore vocal mannerisms aside, handles the difficult role of the conflicted Sister James with compassion and delicacy. But the acting prize of the night goes to Cynthia Jones in the smallish yet tour-de-force role of Mrs. Muller. Jones, an always capable, versatile actress of longstanding in Seattle, gives a performance of such touching power and strength that it makes one wish there were an awards ceremony to honor such work.
Michael Ganio's scenic design is an expert realization of what a parochial school looked like in the '60s (and probably still looks like today), and Allen Lee Hughes' lighting design is a perfect compliment. Frances Kenny's costumes, especially the nuns' habits, capture time and place effortlessly. Background music composed by Michael Roth underscores the action with subtle nuances, never drawing overt attention to itself.
Shanley (whose Moonstruck film screenplay is a personal favorite) deserved his accolades for this accomplished piece of writing. Here's hoping he adapts the inevitable screen version of Doubt . One can just see Dame Judi Dench, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gwyneth Paltrow and Whoopi Goldberg sinking their teeth into it.
Doubt runs through October 21 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street at Seattle Center. Go to www.seattlerep.org for more information.