By ROY BERKO
Doubt: A Parable, which is now on stage at Beck Center for the Arts, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. It ran for 525 performances in its Broadway run and was adapted into a much-heralded feature film.
The plot centers on the conflict between Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the head nun and principal of St. Nicholas School and Father Brendan Flynn.
She is a rigid, former married women, who has a strong sense of duty, formed by her very conservative principles, who seemingly glories because she terrifies both her students and faculty.
He is articulate, personable, popular with the students as he is liberal and reaches out and befriends them.
The script, to some degree, is based on John Patrick Shanley’s experiences as an Irish-American whose family lived in the Bronx district of New York City.
In his program bio for the Broadway production of Doubt, the author, an NYU honors graduate, mentions that he was “thrown out of St. Helena’s kindergarten, banned from St. Anthony’s hot lunch program and expelled from Cardinal Spellman High School.” He also indicates that he was heavily influenced by one of his first teachers, Sister Margaret McEntee, on whom he based the character of Sister James.
The play is set in a fictional church school in the Bronx, during the fall of 1964.
It opens with a sermon by Father Flynn, addressing the importance of uncertainty. He states, “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty.” Thus, he sets up not only the title of the play, but the major concept of the plot.
Sister Aloysius insists upon constant vigilance. During a meeting with a young nun, Sister James, Aloysius reveals a deep mistrust toward her students, her fellow teachers and society in general.
Naïve and impressionable, Sister James is upset by Aloysius’ severe manner and harsh criticism and seems to question the negative evaluations that the older nun has given her over her joy of teaching, the love of her students, and creative educational methods.
Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn are put into direct conflict when she learns that the priest had a one-on-one befriending meeting with Donald Muller, St. Nicholas’s only African-American student.
Mysterious circumstances lead her to believe that sexual misconduct occurred.
In a private meeting, purportedly regarding the upcoming Christmas pageant, Sister Aloysius, in the presence of Sister James, openly confronts Flynn with her suspicions. Flynn leaves the meeting quickly indicating that he has been ambushed!
Flynn’s next sermon is on the evils of gossip.
Sister Aloysius meets with Donald’s mother, Mrs. Muller.
Much to the older sister’s frustration, Mrs. Muller says she supports her son’s relationship with Flynn. Before departing, she hints that Donald may be “that way” which may cause her husband to be beating him.
Conflicts between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius continue. After a lie, inuendoes and accusations are exchanged, the play comes to a startling conclusion, leaving the audience with its own doubts.
Don Carrier, the play’s director states, “I saw the original production of Doubt:A Parable a number of years ago and was taken by its ambivalence, suspense and element of mystery. The central question about truth and certainty is something we all experience. I hope our audience will experience that doubt as the play unfolds. Where does truth live?”
The Beck production is spell-binding. The focused direction, quality of the acting and the technical aspects are all superb!
Derdriu Ring, one of our area’s finest actresses, is perfection. The multi-Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadwayworld award winner, doesn’t act Sister Aloysius, she is the sister! Bravo!
Christopher Bohan, another Cleveland Critics and Broadwayworld award recipient, is compelling as Father Flynn. Another Bravo!
Gabriella O’Fallon perfectly underplays the roll of Sister James. The character’s doubts are created as reality. The actress’s creation of the role is real! Still another Bravo!
Tamara French, making her Cleveland debut on the Beck Center Stage, clearly shows, as her bio indicates, what “true grit and love means,” in her short, but fulcrum role as Mrs. Muller, a mother who will do anything to defend her son. And, still another Bravo!
Jill Davis’s set, aided by Adam Ditzel’s lighting, moves the scenes along smoothly and develops all the right moods. Angie Hayes’s sound design carries us perfectly from religious feelings to being out-of-doors. Wow!
Capsule judgment: What a joy to attend a theatrical production which is based on a well-selected, thought-provoking script, that gets the highest quality of directing, acting and technical aspects. There is no doubt that this is one of the best local theatrical experiences of this or any season! Bravo!!!
Doubt: A Parable, (90 minutes, no intermission) runs in the Studio Theatre through June 25, 2003 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, Ohio. Parents are advised that the play contains adult themes and suggestions of sexual abuse. For tickets call 216-521-2540 or click here.
Roy Berko is a member of the American Theater Critics Association and the Cleveland Critics Circle.