Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Doubt, A Parable"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Doubt: A Parable"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at Foothills Theatre is John Patrick Shanley's Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama,"Doubt''. Directed excellently by Nancy Curran Willis, this show is a shining example to prove she is an Elliot Norton award winner. Her expertise at having her multitalented cast examine the multiple layers found in each of their roles, blocking them and directing them perfectly on a gorgeous set and with topnotch crew members, "Doubt, A Parable" is further proof that Foothills Theatre not only delivers the goods in musicals but in award winning dramas, too. The incredible unit set by Janice Howland consists of principal's office on stage right with a free standing door, stained glass window behind the desk of Madonna and child, a garden set with a wrought iron gate and bench on stage left while down stage left is the pulpit with a large crucifix behind it. The awesome lighting is by Matt Guminski who has a window type lighting effect in the principal's office, while seasonal lighting on the outdoor scene and special spots on the Madonna and the Crucifix at dramatic moments in the show, heightening the tension. Other crew members include Ed Thurber on sound with the sounds of the children standing out, Kristen Mahan on costumes, David Allan Prescott on props and hard working stage manager, Steven Espach who makes the ninety minute show fly by. A spontaneous standing ovation at the close of the show is its reward for moving the audience to laughter and tears at the appropriate moments! Brava on a job very well done.

The show takes place in the Bronx at St. Nicholas School in 1964 and has only four characters in it. The doubt versus certainty theme's broader significance is underscored by having the story unfold through the prism of the 1960's, a period marked by the Kennedy assassination trauma and the doubts it seeded about who killed the president and why;a period that also brought social change throughout the land and within the Catholic Church. The second Vatican Council had also taken place and the Latin Mass turned into English with traditionalists opposing the more secular view of Catholicism. In "Doubt" we never see the victim, Donald Muller, the first African-American boy admitted to the all-white school. There is only one suspect priest and though he may be guilty, it is not an open and shut, beyond a doubt case. He has something hidden in his past and though we never find out what it is, the audience must decide who they believe. In fact, Father Flynn is a more sympathetic character than Sister Aloysius, the righteous nun who is certain that he represents a danger to the boys in the eighth grade of the school she rules with an iron fist. This nun is a hands-on administrator who keeps a sharp eye on her teachers and students. Sister Aloysius first runs rough shod over Sister James, a young new teacher and while berating her, she mentions what could Father Flynn's sermon about doubt really mean.. She sees hidden meanings behind every door. Her hair-raising scenes with Father Flynn, Sister James and Mrs. Muller are incredible and the mother's contradictory beliefs about her son's sexual inclinations and the separate paths they take to reach their goals becomes clear. (The principal wants to get rid of Father Flynn while the mother wants her son to peacefully go to school there until June.) "What do you do when you are not sure?" is uttered by Father Flynn in his first sermon. Whether spoken aloud or silently implied it is asked of everyone involved including the audience except for Sister Aloysius. A visit to the principal's office is never casual or fun. Flynn's first scene with the principal is under the pretext of discussing the Christmas pageant but when he mentions secular songs like "It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas" and Sister James mentions "Frosty, the Snowman", Sister Aloysius mentions that the latter is a pagan song dealing with magic. She is a formidable woman who must be never crossed. However her veneer begins to crack when the angry mother stands up to her. Rising out of her chair and yelling back at her that she doesn't want her son involved in this vendetta the nun has against the priest and that maybe her son is probably "gay" a word that isn't used since it is 1964 so she says he is that way. Mrs. Muller explains that is why her husband gives Donald the beatings and her scene adds to the scope of the play..

The show is presented in one act and the ninety minutes fly by quickly with the intensity and wit of this tremendous cast of equity performers. Kathleen Huber makes Sister Aloysius into a giantess with her acting prowess and dramatic scenes. She makes the nun more than one-dimensional. Kathleen mines the layers of her intractable character for the core of humanity. With the character's dry as dust wit she gets a few laughs along the way including when she warns Sister James that boys are like gravel, soot and tar paper. Neil McGarry is excellent as Father Flynn. He tackles the role of this exuberant young priest with gusto. Neil begins the show with an extremely impressive sermon on doubt and after his first confrontation with Sister Aloysius on intolerance. Neil gives the priest a humanity that reaches across the footlights. Sister James is played by Jessica Webb who I last reviewed as the pretty secretary, Greta in "A Witness for the Prosecution" winning many laughs in that show. Jessica just finished playing the strong willed lead in "The Rainmaker" but in this show, she is the novice teaching nun who trembles under the older woman's interrogation, bursting into tears. She wavers between being sympathetic to each side of the argument. When she finally admits that Donald acted a little strange in class one day, Sister Aloysius jumps on it. Sister James' youthful fervor is one of the situation's casualties yet the way she deals with her loss of innocence adds to the power of the play. While it essentially revolves around these three people, the fourth character, the mother is fabulously played by Nydia Calon. Nancy blocks her perfectly in this scene, making her stand up to confront this strong nun, puts the mother on equal footing with her turning it into an electrifying performance. Nydia shines in this role, showing her strong acting ability while doing so. Standing up against a strong willed nun was unheard of back then but in this instance, it is definitely called for. So for an intelligent well written and directed show, be sure to catch "Doubt" at Foothills Theatre. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Doubt" (18 April - 10 May)
FOOTHILLS THEATRE COMPANY
100 Front Street, WORCESTER MA
1(508) 754-3314

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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