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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Doubt Thrives in Intimate Setting

Also see Bob's review of The Kathy and Mo Show

Doubt
Tracy King, Kathleen Clancy and Karen Case Cook
Doubt, John Patrick Shanley's "parable" in the form of a 90-minute one-act play, is set at a Bronx Catholic parochial grade school in 1964. The principal of the school is the cold and commanding Sister Aloysius. She is convinced that Father Flynn, a parish priest who counsels the students, has been molesting an 8th grade boy, Donald Muller (the school's first Negro admission), whom he has befriended. The good-hearted 8th grade teacher Sister James is solicited by Sister Aloysius to look out for any suspicious behavior by Father Flynn. Sister Aloysius calls Donald's mother to her office to convey her suspicions and enlist her in her battle against Father Flynn. The central focus of Doubt is the battle of wills between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn. The post-performance focus of critics and audiences has been the debate over whether or not Father Flynn molested the boy. So be it.

However, the principal theme is the value of doubt, which surely must trouble all good people of faith, be it religious or secular. This theme is directly addressed in the beautifully written sermon for Father Flynn which opens the play. Father Flynn preaches that a person is neither heretical nor isolated when troubled with doubt, and that it is doubt which provides the opportunity for growth and deeper understanding.

Both the subtleties and plot of Doubt are particularly clearly conveyed in the Women's Theatre Company production now on stage in Parsippany. Director Barbara Krajkowski's production brings a hushed intimacy to Doubt which draws viewers into the heart of the play and allows us to clearly observe the breadth of Shanley's vision. It seems that just when one feels that the ubiquitous Doubt has been so thoroughly experienced that it has no more to offer, Doubt reveals another corner to explore (this observation will be sorely tested for this reviewer when Teaneck's Garage Theatre offers us yet another production of Doubt this Spring).

Karen Case Cook's portrayal of Sister Aloysius as an individual whose grievances and hatreds have grossly affected her judgment and very sanity, is clear, convincing and terrifying. It is also completely founded in Shanley's text. Cherry Jones, who originally played this role, brought an engrossing mystery to the role, with her likeably quirky mannerisms and humorously sly line readings. In director Krajkowski's and Karen Case Cook's interpretation of Sister Aloysius, clarity has supplanted mystery.

Lenny Bart is a persuasive Father Flynn. He allows the appropriate amount of anger and steel to show through his likeable demeanor. Bart is particularly adroit at navigating the play's and Father Flynn's trickiest and most complex scene when his knees buckle under the assault of Sister Aloysius.

The ensemble is effectively completed by Kathleen Clancy's lovely, fully realized Sister James and Tracy King's strong and moving Mrs. Muller. Jonathan Wentz' evocative and efficient set effectively places various areas of the church school on stage simultaneously.

The clarity of the Women's Theatre production of Doubt has altered my view of the play. It now seems to me that Father Flynn's guilt or innocence may well be discernible. Thus Doubt may transcend being high level popular entertainment to rise to the level of serious, illuminating theatre.

Doubt continues performances (Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 3 pm) through March 28, 2010 at the Women's Theater Company, Parsippany Arts Center, 1130 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha, NJ 07034; Box Office: 973-316-3033; online: www.womenstheater.org

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley; directed by Jane Krajkowski

Cast
Father Flynn...................Lenny Bart
Sister Aloysius......Karen Case Cook
Sister James..........Kathleen Clancy
Mrs. Muller.....................Tracy King


Photo: Barbara Krajkowski


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- Bob Rendell



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