If you’ve seen John Patrick Shanley’s 2007 film, Doubt, starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, then this story will be familiar. Doubt, a Parable confronts several themes: trust, suspicion, intolerance and conviction.
In this Pacific Theatre production, Sister Aloysius gets the play’s best lines by far. Erla Faye Forsyth brilliantly pulls off her conservative, orderly character, balancing Sister James (well played by Kaitlin Williams) as the young, bright-eyed teacher who just wants to look out after her students and see them do well. Oddly enough, from our vantage point, Kaitlin Williams slightly resembles Amy Adams (who played the same role in the film).
When Father Flynn, a progressive priest at the school, takes Donald Muller (the only black student) under his wing, suspicious Sister Aloysius attempts to disrupt the entire school by trying to dishonor his name. No matter what Father Flynn says to her, the stern nun is convinced of wrong doing and stops at nothing until she has her way. Giovanni Mocibob (as Flynn) does a wonderful job of being the priest who can both inspire and nurture, while teaching valuable lessons of love and devotion in the school.
I enjoyed the intimate stage setting that a small, independent theatre like the Pacific can bring to this Pulitzer prize-winning play. The audience is seated on both sides of the set that serves as a church, school office, and school garden throughout the two act play. Each of the acts starts with Father Flynn giving a sermon. At first I thought that the slow tempo of the first act’s sermon would set off the rest of the play’s pace, but I was proven wrong by the comic moments throughout the rest of that act. The second act is decidedly more serious as Donald Muller’s mother meets with Sister Aloysius. Leslie Lewis Sword appears perfectly dressed in 60’s period costume, affecting a gentle Southern accent. She does a fine job of convincing Sister Aloysius that her son belongs in a school where he can be cared for, if even by one man, as her own husband isn’t very loving to their son.
Following the 2004 New York production, Shanley went on to adapt the story for film. The story of Doubt was not inspired by the Catholic Church and its scandals, but rather by the simple concept of doubt itself. As an interesting sidebar, the character of young Sister James was based on one of Shanley’s childhood teachers. Shanley intentionally set the play to 1964, when the whole world seemed to be going through what he calls some kind of vast puberty. “Doubt requires more courage than conviction, and more energy, because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite. It is a passionate exercise.”
In the end, Sister Aloysius has her own doubts about what her actions have done to change the outcome at her school. Luckily for her, she has the comfort and warmth of Sister James at her side when her support is most welcomed.
Doubt is directed by Ron Reed, Pacific Theatre’s Artistic and Executive Director. The 105 minute (with one 15 minute intermission) play runs through March 31. Visit the website for more details and ticket information.
All photos courtesy of Emily Cooper.