Theatre Mirror Reviews - "DOUBT"

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Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Ocean State Theatre Company's second show of their fifth season is the regional professional premiere of "Doubt", John Patrick Shanley's Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Pulitzer Prize winning drama. The play is set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School, in the Bronx, in 1964. It opens with a sermon by Father Flynn, a beloved and progressive priest, addressing the importance of uncertainty, doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. Sister Mary Aloysius, a rigidly conservative nun vowed to the order of the Sisters of Charity, insists on constant vigilance. Aloysius and Father Flynn are put into direct conflict when she learns from Sister James that the priest had a one on one meeting with Donald Muller, St. Nicholas' first black student. Mysterious circumstances lead her to believe that sexual misconduct occurred. In a meeting supposedly regarding the Christmas pageant, Aloysius, in front of Sister James, confronts Flynn with her suspicions. He angrily denies wrong-doing but Aloysius is unsatisfied with Flynn's story. Directed excellently by Amiee Turner, she obtains stunning performances from her fantastic four member cast. The gorgeous unit set is by Erik D. Diaz. The cast moves the audience to laughter and tears at all the appropriate moments.

In "Doubt" the supposed victim, Donald Muller is the first African-American boy admitted to the all white St. Nicholas School. The doubt versus the certainty theme's broader significance is underscored by having the story unfold during the turbulent 1960's, right after John Kennedy's assassination and the second Vatican Council where the Latin Mass was changed into English. There is only one suspect priest and although he might be guilty, it is not an open and shut, beyond a shadow of a doubt case. The audience must decide who they believe. In fact, Father Flynn is a more sympathetic character than Sister Aloysius, the self righteous nun who believes he is a danger to the eighth grade boys. She rules the school with an iron fist hand and runs roughshod over Sister James, a novice teacher. Her hair raising scenes with Father Flynn, Sister James and Mrs. Muller are fabulous and the mother's contradictory beliefs about her son's inclinations and the separate paths she and Aloysius seek become clear. The nun is a formidable woman whose veneer begins to crack when the angry mother stands up to her and the audience obtains the dimension needed for the play in this scene.

The show is presented in one act and the ninety minutes fly right by with the wit and intensity of this talented cast. Amiee fleshes out all the characters especially Sister James, giving her more depth and dimension to the role.Donna Sorbello is fantastic as Sister Aloysius. She gives this character the depth it needs whether she is berating Flynn for having long finger nails, liking secular songs at the Christmas pageant and using a ball point pen, running rough shod over Sister James or arguing with Mrs. Muller. Donna's acting prowess shines through as this strict, martinet principal. She delves into the core of this unbending woman, giving her the humanity she needs when she is brought to tears by admitting her doubt to Sister James in the final scene. This nun seemed to be ahead of her time. I previously reviewed Donna as the comic, Mrs. Higgins in "My Fair Lady" at Reagle Music Theatre back in 2012. Greg London is excellent as Father Flynn. He is very charismatic and displays his acting chops throughout the show especially in his first sermon on doubt and in his second sermon on intolerance after his first confrontation with Sister Aloysius. Greg gives this priest the compassion it needs to enthrall the audience and his last scene with Donna is electrifying.

The third performer in the show is Caitlin Davies as Sister James, the novice teaching nun. She is brilliant as this young nun. Caitlin trembles under the questioning by the older nun and then agrees willingly to find something sinister in the relationship between the priest and the eighth grade boys. Her youthful fervor is one of the ugly situation's casualties. However the way she deals with this loss of innocence adds power to the play. Caitlin has many strong scenes with Donna and Greg. She plays the role on many different levels, giving her more than a one dimensional character. Lovely Hoffman plays Donald's mother, Mrs. Muller. She shines in this role, displaying her strong acting ability. It was unheard of back in 1964 to stand up to a strong willed nun but these circumstances definitely call for it. Her scene with Sister Aloysius crackles with intensity and power. So for an intelligent, well written and directed show, be sure to catch "Doubt" at Ocean State Theatre Company. Tell them Tony sent you. It will definitely captivate you from start to finish.

DOUBT (2 to 20 November)
Ocean State Theatre Company, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI
1(401)921-6800 or

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