“Doubt, A Parable” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ September 15, 2008


Actors Theatre, Stage West, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

“Doubt, A Parable” is a fantastic play. It won many awards during its original production. It even stopped at ASU Gammage with its original star, Cherry Jones, but the intimate play lost its immediacy and audience connection in the vast auditorium. Would the brilliant play about a nun’s doubt regarding an approachable priest make it in a local production?

The artful Actors Theatre staging at the wonderfully intimate Herberger Theater Center betters the original in some important aspects while equaling it otherwise. Under director Matthew Wiener’s expert guidance, an outstanding quartet of local actors bring this marvelous play to vibrant life. They keep you on the edge on your seat throughout this penetrating drama.

The John Patrick Shanley play is set in 1964 at a Bronx Catholic Church and school. It’s full of fascinating ideas not only about Catholic clergy but about the doubts we all experience in our lives.

An overly pious head mistress, Sister Aloysius, runs a rigid school that avoids progressive education because she believes in old fashioned learning. Art is “a waste of time,” to her as are music and physical education. She even rejects ballpoint pens as stimulating student laziness.

An impressionable young nun, Sister James, comes under Sister Aloysius’ antiquated educational tutelage. Sister James buckles, but even she fights the head mistresses evil thoughts about the parish priest, Father Flynn, who mentors the school’s only African-American student. Sister Aloysius thinks, but has no proof, that Father Flynn has an unhealthy interest in the student.

The play never resolves his guilt. Audiences must decide for themselves. But Father Flynn’s situation is not really Shanley’s issue. The play looks at how circumstantial evidence rules our lives. It leaves audiences thinking.

Wiener’s superbly crafted staging betters the original with its fine handling of the play’s crafty comedy. Sister Aloysius’ intolerance is presented with levity and Wiener captures every humorous nuance with raucous candor. His staging equals the original in capturing the throbbing tension in the insightful challenges between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn.

Weiner has a gifted cast. Patti Davis Suarez’s amazing Sister Aloysius is always stern and the character is unlike anything she has ever played here before. She never waivers from her determination to bring Father Flynn down.

Angelica Howland creates a rich and complex Sister James. She plays this weak character with depth and makes her doubts about Sister Aloysius’ suspicions clear. Lillie Richardson crafts a marvelous Mrs. Muller, the young boy’s mother. The scene with Sister Aloysius crackles with dramatic tension that evolves naturally.

Rusty Ferracane’s Father Flynn, the production’s weakest performance, still raises sharp stress in the probing scenes with Sister Aloysius.

“Doubt” is a must see for thinking theatergoers. This perfect staging continues through September 28. For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or go online at www.actorstheatrePHX.org.

Grade: A