Janelle Renee Hunnicut & Grace Poganski in Doubt.
Photo-Craig Nolan Highley
Doubt: A Parable
By John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Tim Kitchen
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Doubt is a lean and economical script that takes on moral questions in such an intelligent manner that is no surprise that it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 and was the rare play that was adapted for film without sacrificing any of its power.
Sister Aloysius Beaver rules St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx with an iron fist, and takes a suspicious interest in one of the priests, Father Brendan Flynn. An incident witnessed by a young teacher, Sister James, gives Sister Aloysius the ammunition she needs to confront Father Flynn.
Yet the “proof” of inappropriate behavior with a young boy is never more than the flimsiest circumstantial evidence, and the playwright is clearly not interested in an indictment of the broad-reaching scandal of pedophile Catholic clergy. Instead, he examines the dangers of self-righteousness and how easily human nature might be manipulated in its worst instincts.
Wayward Actors Company delivers a thoughtful production with a solid cast. Grace Poganski finds Sister Aloysius’ sense of humor while maintaining her stubborn intolerance, while Magdalen Hartman nicely manages Sister James’ transition from cowed subservient to self-confidence. Daniel Main made Father Flynn a very grounded, approachable character with very human vulnerabilities.
As Mrs. Muller, the mother of the African-American boy that is thought to be the victim, Janelle Renee Hunnicutt explores the play’s most complex character with subtlety and depth of feeling. Although the play is a period piece, set in 1964, it is in Mrs. Muller that the playwright interjects a modern perspective. Shanley has set his story at the moment just before the peak of the civil rights movement and the social upheaval of the last years of the decade, and it is in this character’s voice that he delivers the play’s unorthodox insight.
The spare design work is appropriate, although the mother’s costume seems more 1969 than 1964, yet it could be seen as a choice reflective of her forward-thinking attitudes. Shanley has said about this tight one-act structure that it is for the audience to provide the second act, in the thoughts and conversations that take place after they leave the theatre. This production ably fulfills the goal of provoking that conversation.
Doubt: A Parable
February 28-March 8, 2014
Wayward Actors Company
At The MeX
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202