Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of 1 Henry IV
Director Matt Torney ably depicts the conflict between two competing belief systems as personified by a nun and a priest of different generations. Sister Aloysius (a fierce Sarah Marshall) is the principal of a Catholic elementary school in the Bronx in 1964 and a traditionalist. She believes she knows best about everything and that children must learn to submit to authority. Father Brendan Flynn (Christian Conn) is a rough-edged priest, inspired by the reforms undertaken by the Second Vatican Council. Sister Aloysius doesn't trust Father Flynn's more informal ways of doing things, while he comes from a social hierarchy where any nun is subservient to any priest. (When she invites him to a meeting in her office, he takes her chair without a second thought.)
The crux of the story is Father Flynn's friendship with the (unseen) first African-American student in the school. Sister Aloysius has seen clerical predation in the past and, based on second-hand reports, sets out to prove the priest's guilt. (Shanley is scrupulously balanced in his treatment of these characters; he wants the audience to experience the same uncertainty as they do.)
Marshall has appeared at Studio more than any other performer in its history; while in her career she sometimes goes for the flamboyant and enjoyably excessive, here she gives a riveting performance as a woman sustained by the knowledge that whatever she does is in the cause of righteousness. Conn has an easy confidence as a priest who sees himself making the church less a place of fear and awe and more a space that provides comfort.
Tiffany M. Thompson gives a forceful performance as the mother of the boy in question, who brings yet another perspective to the drama, and Amelia Pedlow is affecting as a young nun whose love of teaching runs up against Sister Aloysius' emphasis on unyielding discipline.