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Published:April 7th, 2012 11:23 EST
Doubt: A Parable Leaves No Doubt of a Momentous Play

Doubt: A Parable Leaves No Doubt of a Momentous Play

By Michelle Harven

Doubt: A Parable, playing March 27-April 15 in an intimate studio at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, was one of the best plays I have seen in years.  The action is set in 1964 at St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx.  The play begins by a mesmerizing short sermon by the priest, Father Flynn, who opens with the question, What do you do when you are not sure?  and talks about a crisis of faith.  Although seeing a Priest at an altar preaching normally doesn`t give the warm and fuzzies, the topic is so genuine and the priest so human, that immediately John Patrick Shanley does an amazing job of creating a character that we are connected with in spite of our preconceived thoughts.


Following our introduction to Father Flynn, we are presented to Sister Aloysius whose glare could make anyone`s blood run cold.  We first witness Sister Aloysius critiquing the younger Sister James on her teaching methods at the school.  We soon learn the type  of creature that Sister Aloysius is by her recommendation to look at every student with suspicion.  Become colder, her words admonish, fear is the core of respect.

Then we have Sister James who is a meek young nun who has just begun her teaching career at the school.  Sister James is a young nun beginning her teaching career at the school. Searching for acceptance, she acquiesces to Sister Aloysius` recommendation without effort. She loves her job teaching and has an enthusiasm for history that Sister Aloysius says is sugar coating the past.  She vows to try to do better.        

It is exactly these personalities that make the story of Doubt possible.  The hard-nosed Sister Aloysius is suspicious of Father Flynn to begin with and tells Sister James to keep an eye out.  This seed of doubt that is cast is all it takes for the threesome to spiral out of control.  Sister James does not take long to offer up information that could give reason to Sister Aloysius`s suspicions.  It is from this point on that the audience realizes Sister Aloysius will stop at nothing to bring Father Flynn down. 


Although no hard-hitting evidence is given at any point during the play, it is hard to fully trust either Father Flynn or Sister Aloysius.  The juxtaposition between the two characters reveals such dissimilarity in philosophies that it is hard to say whether the war between the two may be over this difference alone.  Yet there are times when the pure issue of possible child molestation comes into view and the seriousness of the play comes into light.  Sister Aloysius at one point invites the suspected victim`s mother in for a talk about the possibility that her son may be in danger.  The meeting causes some unexpected new information and a new perspective on the situation.  There are so many layers that build and so much to scrutinize that I found myself changing my mind with every turn of the play. 


By the end, neither Sister Aloysius nor Father Flynn really win " in their battle and the audience is left to their own thoughts.  A friend that I went with came away with the exact opposite impression than myself.  It is this great storytelling that can leave an audience split in their thoughts and engaged in deep conversation at the end.


If you do not get a chance to view the story of Doubt as it was intended for the stage, Shanley, the original playwright, wrote and directed the 2008 movie adaptation.  With the Oscar nominated performance of almost the entire cast, including such stars as Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, there is no excuse not to be introduced to such a thought provoking story. 

Doubt: A Parable

By John Patrick Shanley

Walnut Street Theatre

Playing March 27 - April 15