Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Doubt, a Parable
This excellent production also features beautifully nuanced performances throughout, with Kim Furlow as Sister Aloysius, the hard-as-nails principal of the school, constantly on guard against any weakness. She dogs the new teacher, Sister James (Sarah Cannon), whenever she strays into colorful classroom techniques, despite their ultra-prim habits. And Leah Stewart is touching as Mrs. Muller, mother of the only black student in the parish, with a husband who's angry and violent. Even with her prim (and slightly weary) resolve, it's still darkest here right before the dawn of "the Great Society."
I found myself watching the recent film for any trace of guilt in Father Flynn's expression, probably because on the "big screen," you are more or less obliged to count every pore in Phillip Seymour Hoffman's face. Here, the weight of the drama seems to be on the actual conflict between Flynn and Sister Aloysius, as it properly should be. The story provides all the "evidence" against him, and beyond that, it's a clever battle of wits between the two local church leaders: one of them, astonishingly likable and earnest; the other, bitter and crafty from too many patriarchal dodges.
The closing line to the play is, by now, fairly well-known (though I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it yet), and Ms. Furlow is even better than Meryl Streep in that little moment, finally playing the "flip-side" of all her hardened certainty till then, though again Ms. Furlow doesn't have to worry about her face being 40 feet tall, like in the movies. And it's shocking to compare her sparkling "head shot," for the show's press information, to the colorless, pursed-lipped "enforcer" we now see before usso complete is her transformation. One shouldn't be surprised, though: Ms. Furlow is one of our strongest local actresses, tempered in the fires of daily stage-work at the local Six Flags amusement park (a grueling and humiliating experience, by all accounts) as a younger girl.
Sarah Cannon, a beautiful pixie of an actress, gives us the full measure of awakening to a great moral struggle, caught unnervingly between her two power-house scene partners. And it's a good thing critics take notes, or we might only remember her diminutive frame and beaming face, utterly forgetting the humor and terror she brings to her role as a young elementary school teacher.
The costumes are remarkable, from the grim bonnets of the sisters, which almost make this story seem like a "Scarlet Letter" in reverse (with the man as the target of horrible accusations) to Father Flynn's colorful cassocks to Mrs. Muller's ultra prim suit-dress, in a vaguely mournful shade of powder-blue. It's a huge victory whenever things work together so perfectly, and it's a daring gambit to stage the play at all, in the wake of the movie and recent theatrical tours. Excellent, beyond a doubt.
Through August 15, with two shows on that closing day, at the Kranzberg Arts Center on Grand at Olive, in mid-town St. Louis. For information visit them online at www.DramaticLicenseProductions.com. The group plans to move out to the city of Chesterfield next season, at Clarkson and Baxter Roads.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
Photograph by Jill Ritter Lindberg