Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Doubt: A Parable

Also see Susan's review of The Book Club Play

James Denvil and Brigid Cleary
Playwright John Patrick Shanley has always referred to his 2004 play Doubt as a parable, emphasizing that it deals with matters beyond the literal actions depicted onstage. In his vision of Doubt that opens the 2008 season at the Olney Theatre Center in suburban Washington, director John Going allows these metaphorical levels to shine through the surface drama: the clash that occurs when one person suspects —with no evidence other than a gut feeling —that another has committed a grievous crime.

The setting is a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy and early in the modernization of the Church that followed the Second Vatican Council. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Brigid Cleary), principal of St. Nicholas School, is determined to maintain the old ways of order and control. Her opposite, in both temperament and philosophy, is Father Brendan Flynn (James Denvil), a man who wants to make his church less forbidding to his parishioners and more like a family.

The drama revolves around Sister Aloysius' growing belief that Father Flynn is molesting the school's first African-American student. Shanley has written the play in such a way that he never reveals which side of the situation is the truth, placing the audience in the same unease and confusion as the characters.

Cleary's performance is straightforward, allowing the audience to see the self-deception of a person who considers herself an avenger while excusing her own small lapses in truth for what she feels is a higher good. ("In the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God," she explains.) Denvil is magnetic and seemingly guileless, showing the sense of entitlement that comes from the fact that, in his world, nuns are necessarily subservient to priests.

The other cast members help to form a strong ensemble: Deidra LaWan Starnes as the boy's mother, who brings a third perspective to the situation, and Patricia Hurley as the young teacher Sister James, forced to choose between Father Flynn's appealing, if not necessarily genuine, openness and Sister Aloysius' austerity.

James Wolk's set design allows for flexible shifts between scenes in the 90-minute play, enhanced by Dennis Parichy's lighting design.

Olney Theatre Center
Doubt: A Parable
February 13th —March 9th
By John Patrick Shanley
Father Brendan Flynn: James Denvil
Sister Aloysius Beauvier: Brigid Cleary
Sister James: Patricia Hurley
Mrs. Muller: Deidra LaWan Starnes
Directed by John Going
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD

Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or

Photo: Stan Barouh

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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