Strong performances in 'Doubt'

Gordon Jones
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Theatre Review

From left, Sister Aloysius (Jacinta Graham), Father Flynn (Michael Coady) and Grace Okwera as the mother of a student are shown in a scene from "Doubt." Submitted photo

Where better to stage a play about a priest and a nun than Holy Heart Theatre? Author of half-a-dozen screenplays and more than 20 plays, American dramatist John Patrick Shanley won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for this four-handed parable, "Doubt," subsequently turned into a film. Set in the Bronx in the 1960s, a liberal and open-minded priest is pitted against an illiberal and closed-minded nun. Who are you going to believe?
The play opens with compassionate Father Flynn's sermon on doubt, delivered to the audience as congregation, followed by a scene presenting his antagonist, Sister Aloysius, the crusty, disciplinarian principal of St. Nicholas's school, who is sucking the idealism and joie de vivre out of a vivacious, starry-eyed, young sister-teacher (Virginia Kingston).
Jacinta Graham's curmudgeonly principal counsels arm's-length dealings with students, while lamenting the decline of penmanship.
Censorious and suspicious, her steely, old-school, larger-than-life nun you love to hate nevertheless delivers virtually all of the funniest observations and rejoinders in the play.
Michael Coady's Father Flynn returns to address the audience a second time, now as basketball coach, showing his assembled students how to take foul shots and to have a care for personal hygiene.
Old sister and young priest clash when she insinuates that he has had questionable relations with a twelve-year- old pupil and altar-boy. The terrified younger nun is caught between them, like a startled deer in the headlights of oncoming vehicles on collision course. Who are you going to believe?
The priest preaches once more to the audience-congregation, this time an angry sermon denouncinggossip. Who are you going to believe?
The increasingly vindictive and militant Sister Aloysius continues her crusade to discredit the sympathetic pastor, calling for support on the boy's down-to-earth mother, very naturally played by Grace Okwera.
The climax is an explosive confrontation between the mutually denunciatory priest and nun, one inflexibly self-righteous, the other angrily defensive. Who are you going to believe?
After the emotional fireworks, the play ends quietly, ambivalently. Who won, who lost? Who are you going to believe?

The play's full title, "Doubt, A Parable," should make it unsurprising that the script is single-issued and homiletic. In a sense, the micro-sermons it contains are images of the macro-sermon of the play itself. Nevertheless, performance by the four principals is compelling, even if their characters are parable-like in their singleness of focus and purpose.
Produced under the banner of the newly established Burning Boat Theatre company, the production boasts several theatre veterans who will be recognized by patrons familiar with the work of Beothuck Street Players. Directed by Clar Doyle, featuring strong performance and evocative sound and lighting - as is always the case in Doyle's shows - "Doubt" continues its 10-day run at Holy Heart Theatre until Nov. 1.
Curtain time is 8 p.m. With no intermission, the production runs for 100 minutes.

Organizations: Holy Heart Theatre, Burning Boat Theatre

Geographic location: Bronx

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