Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley. directed by Eric Peterson.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Doubt can be a bond."
Tim Dugan in the best photo Oldcastle could send us
There is little doubt that a good play sends a strong message. John Patrick Shanley's play, called "Doubt", does exactly that. The message is about truth and bonding and human reactions to human situations. Doubt produces in us all an estrangement from our fellow creatures that can sometimes be shared and that sometimes requires us to carry a burden by ourselves.
In this play, often seen in our region, a few things are shared but most are not. Father Tim Dugan has been accused by Sister Aloysius Beauvier of improprieties involving a very young boy, sacramental wine and human sympathies and tendencies. Two people share the belief that all of the accusations are true; one is pleased by them and one upset by them. One person believes that all of this is a lie. One person believes that if there is truth to it, it must be misunderstood or wrongly interpreted; he is not so sure that any of it is true, but he doubts that anyone can know or understand motives in this case.
The production on stage at Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington, Vermont lays it all out on the table for us. We are free, in director Eric Peterson's vision, to decide for ourselves who is right and who is wrong and who we would support in a struggle of this sort: priest, nun, mother or novice.
Meredith Meurs, as Sister James, is the novice who refuses to believe in wrongdoing. Meurs offers an innocent face and voice to the role and she brings to life a character who sometimes emerges as only a written character. Instead, here, we have the heart and soul of a person whose religious tendencies support her contention that there is only good in her priest. It is a charming performance in Meurs capable hands.
Nehassaiu deGannes plays Mrs. Muller, mother of the young black boy who is at the center of the controversy. If one could stop a play as a musical can be stopped and an encore sung it is her work in this play that would make that happen. Her one scene had strength and depth and fire and even tragedy in her voice and rigid, upright posture. Her love for her flawed child is evident from her first speech and her offering of information about their homelife is the essence of tragedy. deGannes brings empathy with her and receives sympathethy from the audience. I found it a brilliant evocation of motherhood in its finest array.
Tim Dugan is a vulnerable, challenged Father Flynn. His good looks make the accusations plausible but his strength and even his self-challenges bring us slowly into the concept of doubt. His work here is about the finest I've seen an actor deliver in this role.
The incredible Christine Decker delivers a full-bodied, heaven-and-hell ravaged human being in the form of Sister Aloysius. Never for a moment does she waver in her convictions. She manages a moment here and there of sweetness, but for the character's sake she pulls it back into a different form, tolerance. Decker uses her hands and her lower lip and chin to show us the inner thoughts of a woman who can only express in the most direct manner her specific concepts. At the very end of the play when Aloysius confesses her own peculiar sin it is with that same sense of inner conflict that she has pulled back sympathy, charm, sweetness and the humanity that she lived prior to taking on her role in life as a nun. Decker makes it all so real.
This review was delayed because of a lack of photos. It is now offered in the hope that anyone who wanted to see "Doubt" has seen it. Or still might.
Doubt: A Parable plays at Oldcastle Theatre through June 22. For information and tickets consult their website at www.oldcastletheatre.org or call 802-447-1267.