M&D Productions takes on John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt: A Parable” in their latest production, which opens tonight at Your Theatre at Willow Common in North Conway, N.H.
Although the script never directly mentions the words pedophile or sexual abuse, “Doubt” addresses those issues in regards to a priest working at Catholic school in New York City in the 1960s. It would be easy to dismiss the subject matter as obvious given the headlines that have been plaguing newspapers in recent years, but Shanley's treatment of the material is not salacious or exploitive.
The play sets up a battle of wills between Sister Aloysius (Julianna Brosnan) and
Father Flynn (Bill Knolla). Flynn has a protective relationship with Donald, the first and only black student at the school. When Sister James (Natasha Repass) sees something that could be construed as suspicious behavior it sets Sister Aloysius on a mission to remove Father Flynn. Although she has no evidence, she is absolutely certain of his guilt.
Father Flynn's guilt or innocence is part of a larger ideological struggle. Sister Aloysius is a firm believer in strict authority and emotional distance from the students and the parish. Father Flynn believes in compassion and love and that the church should he seen as part of people's families. There is an implication that this difference in opinion is Sister Aloysius' true motivation.
Thanks to the 2008 film adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, “Doubt” should be familiar to a lot of people in the audience, but while the film is an excellent and well-acted point of reference, it isn't so iconic as to be distracting. The cast of M&D's production, under the direction of Ken
Martin, more than hold their own against the formidable cast of the film.
What struck me more in M&D's production than in the film is how Sister James is torn apart by being caught in the middle of a struggle between Sister Aloysius' coldness and Father Flynn's warmth. This secondary philosophical battle is in a way just as important as the primary conflict.
Sister James is innocent and sweet with a passion for teaching. Sister Aloysius wants to crush all those aspects of Sister James’ personality and shape the young nun to be more like her. It leaves Sister James disturbed and literally restless. Repass plays the role on a perpetual verge of tears and her angst and internal conflict is palpable. You just want to give her a hug and tell her everything is going to be OK.
Brosnan as Sister Aloysius perfectly captures the steely rigidness of the character and doesn't make her a particularly likable or sympathetic character. Shanley's script lives in a gray area, there is no villain. It may seem as if Sister Aloysius is a bullying antagonist, but if she's right doesn't the villain become Father Flynn? The doubt that shrouds the whole show makes everything less cut and dry and more realistic.
We want to believe Father Flynn because of his compassion and genuineness. As portrayed by Knolla he is amicable and the kind of priest who could be your friend. Knolla is believable and effective when giving his sermons. The scenes of conflict between Knolla and Brosnan are exceptionally acted.
The only other cast member is Pa'Mela Ramsay as the mother of the boy in question. She only has one scene, but it is profoundly powerful. Sister Aloysius attempts to manipulate the mother for her own cause, but is surprised by the reaction she receives.
This is a potent and compelling show that raises issues and explores them in a way that doesn't offer clear answers. It is the kind of theater that creates lively discussion after the show, which is always a good sign.
For more information visit www.yourtheatre.com For reservations call 662-7591.