Actor Mark Saturno dominates this version of the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning drama from the moment he appears, in lime green clerical garb (thanks to costumer Elizabeth Flauto), as the play opens. Speaking in a dead-on Bronx accent, Saturno embodies Father Brendan Flynn, priest and basketball coach at a Bronx Catholic school. He might or might not have carried on a questionable relationship with the only African- American boy in the school, Joseph Muller.
Jittery, youthful, sincere Sister James (Letitia Lange) has observed Flynn's response to the ten-year-old student and conveys this to Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Glynis Bell). Bell imbues Sister Aloysius with a steely rigidity and dogged persistence. The elder Sister, who runs the school, seems absolutely certain that Flynn has erred even if she is unable to muster specific evidence. The truth is that no one knows what Flynn did or did not commit.
Saturno is spirited, fervid and emotional. His agitation, given the charge, is physical; he evidences hurt, anger and self-belief through a variety of facial expressions. It's a deep-rooted and convincing performance of a man who is torn apart, defensive, and suffering.
The TheaterWorks rendering, directed by Steve Campo, relies heavily upon production elements. Adrian W. Jones' interior set allows for perspective just outside of the church office. We see a courtyard, bare tree and brick building. Muted colors contrast with the fire within Shanley's script.
Late in the play, Mrs. Muller (Cherene Snow), Joseph's mother, arrives to speak with Sister Aloysius. The moment is tense as Mrs. Muller indicates that she wants her son to graduate – no matter what might have transpired. Sister Aloysius is rock-solid in her opinion but Mrs. Muller will not compromise.
Doubt runs for ninety dynamic minutes without intermission. The play actualizes into high gear with Flynn's opening monologue. He hooks the audience. The TheaterWorks presentation seems to revolve most acutely around Flynn who, at one point, nearly steps into the audience to express himself. Sister Aloysius wishes to close the case through pronouncement, but she cannot. Instead, she is forced to suggest but not confirm. Her intuitive feeling could not be more profound but the audience leaves the theater in a state of uncertainty.
Campo pushes the play forward while the actors (fortunately) allow the suspense to build from one moment to the next. Thematically, Doubt is about morality, faith and truth. The frustration and beauty of the play is that nothing is tied together neatly even if the script is masterfully sculpted and structured.
A touring presentation came to Hartford's Bushnell Theater, around the corner from TheaterWorks last January. It, too, was splendid and featured Cherry Jones, who deservedly won a Tony Award for her performance. The current production heightens intimacy and, really, dramatic shock. The conflict among the characters evolves.
All four of the actors associated with Theaterworks' Doubt are excellent. Flynn, through command and pervasive belief, is indelible. Prospective theatergoers should begin, now, to mull this one over: "What do you do when you're not sure?"
Doubt will be performed at TheaterWorks in Hartford through December 23rd. For ticket and schedule information, call (860) 527-7838.
- Fred Sokol