Little Theater of Fall River's winter show at the Fire Barn is John Patrick Shanley's Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning drama, "Doubt". The play is set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School, in the Bronx, during the fall of 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. The principal of the school, 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 Negro student. Mysterious circumstances lead her to believe that sexual misconduct occurred. In a meeting supposedly regarding the Christmas pageant, Aloysius, in the presence of Sister James, openly confronts Flynn with her suspicions. He angrily denies wrong-doing but Aloysius is unsatisfied with Flynn's story. Directed wonderfully by Kathy Castro, she obtains topnotch performances from her four talented cast members. The gorgeous unit set by The Stage Factory, Kathy and Bob Gillet is spectacular. The cast moves the audience to laughter and tears at the appropriate moments, leading to a standing ovation at the curtain call.
In "Doubt" the supposed victim, Donald Muller is the first African-American boy admitted to the all white school. The doubt versus certainty theme's broader significance is underscored by having the story unfold through the prism of the 1960's. It takes place after the Kennedy assassination and the Second Vatican Council where the Latin Mass changed into English. There is only one suspect priest and although he might 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 believes he is a danger to the boys in the eighth grade. The nun disapproves of his long fingernails, his use of a ball point pen and his liking secular music for the Christmas pageant. She rules the school with an iron fist and runs rough shod over Sister James, a young new 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 path Aloysius and the mother seek becomes clear. The nun is a formidable woman whose veneer begins to crack when the angry mother stands up to her and we obtain the dimension needed for the play in this scene.
The show is presented in one act and the ninety minutes fly by quickly with the intensity and wit of this topnotch cast. Pamela Morgan is fantastic as Sister Aloysius. She gives the character the depth it needs and her acting prowess shines through. Pamela is a human dynamo as this strict, martinet principal. She delves into the core of this unbending woman to give her the humanity it needs in the last scene of the show when she is brought to tears by her own doubt. I previously reviewed Pamela as Jo Gallaway in "A Few Good Men". Dave Pizzelli is excellent as Father Flynn. He tackles this role and displays his acting chops throughout the show and especially in his two sermons, the one on doubt which opens the show and the other one on intolerance after his first confrontation with Sister Aloysius. Dave gives the priest the compassion needed to enthrall the audience and his last scene with Pamela is electrifying.
The third performer in this show is Jenna Tremblay as Sister James, the novice teaching nun. She is wonderful as this young nun. Jenna trembles under the questioning by the older nun and then agrees willingly to find something sinister in the relationship between the boys and the priest. Her youthful fervor is one of the ugly situation's casualties, yet the way she deals with the loss of innocence adds to the power of the play. Jenna has many strong scenes with Pamela and Dave. Marsha Furtado plays Mrs. Muller, Donald's mother. She shines in this role, displaying her strong acting ability. It was unheard of to stand up to a strong willed nun back then but the circumstances definitely call for it. Her scene with Pamela crackles with power and intensity. So for an intelligent, well written show, be sure to catch "Doubt" at Little Theatre of Fall River. Tell them Tony sent you.