PicksInSix Review: DOUBT: A Parable
‘DOUBT’ ASKS: ‘IS GOSSIPING A SIN?’
More than uncertainty is woven tightly into each of the characters of John Patrick Shanley’s compelling 2005 Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play “DOUBT: A Parable,” The Gift Theatre’s stirring revival now playing at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre. Control and order drive Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Mary Ann Thebus), the authoritative principal at St. Nicholas Church School, to extremes with an accusation of inappropriate behavior with a student by the progressive and well-respected Father Brendan Flynn (Michael Patrick Thornton).
Thornton, The Gift Theatre’s co-founder, artistic director and among Chicago’s most revered actors, delivers a riveting portrayal of Flynn—in one moment, conducting a sermon on the topic of remaining committed to our beliefs over all else, and in the next, providing lighthearted advice to the boys in gym class on their approach to foul shots and personal hygiene. However, the priest’s reputation is in jeopardy when certain information about Flynn’s interactions with an African-American boy comes to the attention of the youthful teacher Sister James (Cyd Blakewell), and Flynn is summoned to the principal’s office on false pretenses. That exchange unfolds as either a searing indictment or an impassioned defense, depending upon your point of view, which is precisely what the playwright had in mind for his work set in the Bronx, New York, in Autumn 1964.
Sister James is swept up in what becomes an uncomfortable and disturbing confrontation–expertly staged for these three fine actors by director and Ensemble Member John Gawlik–that ultimately unhinges Flynn and rocks James’s judgment and her faith and forces her to take sides. With what we believe is the truth lying somewhere in the murky middle, Thebus’s Sister Aloysius is more emboldened than ever to shine a light on what she is convinced to be true.
When Thornton’s Flynn discovers the real reason that Sister Aloysius has invited him and Sister James to tea, his initial response is powerfully deafening but no match for the explosive confrontation that follows with Aloysius upon learning that she has met privately with Mrs. Muller (Jennifer Glasse), the boy’s mother, to discuss her suspicions. It is here that Flynn’s staunch idealism runs smack into the rigid and unyielding discipline of Sister Aloysius.
Questions of propriety and judgment race through this finely-tuned 90-minute character study. Is gossiping a sin and is it proper for accusations to be investigated outside the process established by an organization? If not, how can anyone entrusted with safety and security act on circumstantial evidence–particularly if their own actions are deceptive–in the name of what they believe to be the truth? And, if the governing authority ignores potential threats to the well-being of children, where and to whom do they turn?
Shanley dedicates his play to “the many orders of Catholic nuns who have devoted their lives to serving in hospitals, schools and retirement homes,” and then asks the question, “Though they have been much maligned and ridiculed, who among us has been so generous?”–testimony to the complex relationship between discipline, truth, respect for others and, ultimately, faith that the Church and our educational system face every day and which is embodied in this expertly crafted work.
THE GIFT THEATRE
in association with
STEPPENWOLF LOOKOUT SERIES
DOUBT: A PARABLE
through March 31st
Steppenwolf 1700 Theatre
1700 N Halsted
(312) 335-1650 Box Office
(773) 283-7071 Gift Theatre
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