Posts Tagged ‘doubt’

Doubt: A Parable
by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Trish Brown
Prism Theatre Company
April 22, 2023

Jeffrey David Thomas, Rhiannon Creighton
Photo by Kim Howland
Prism Theatre Company

Prism Theatre Company’s latest production may be called Doubt: a Parable, but what’s certain here is its excellence. John Patrick Shanley’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a meticulously crafted, highly thought-provoking look at uncertain situations, the roots of suspicion, and the changing atmosphere in the Catholic church in the early 1960s. Onstage at the Kranzberg Arts Center, Prism’s production features expert staging, thoughtful pacing, and a first-rate cast that makes the already excellent script all the more compelling.

The story takes place at a Catholic elementary school in 1964, during the era of the Second Vatican Council that brought a lot of changes in the life of the Church and Catholic parishioners. Here, the main conflict is between a stern, traditionalist nun, Sister Aloysius (Kate Durbin), and a popular, progressive-minded young priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Jeffrey David Thomas).  The sister, who heads the school, is suspicious of the priest for a few reasons, but she becomes especially upset when Father Flynn has a private meeting with the school’s first Black student, about whose welfare she has been especially concerned. Even before this incident, however, she has instructed the young, enthusiastic young teacher Sister James (Rhiannon Creighton) to keep an eye on the priest, and her suspicions of misconduct on his part only grow as the plot plays out. Sister Aloysius even calls in the student’s mother, Mrs. Muller (Laurell Stevenson) for a meeting to share her concerns, and is met with an unexpected response revealing that Mrs. Muller’s has other reasons to be concerned for her son. As the central conflict plays out, we get to hear Father Flynn preach about the concepts of doubt and the dangers of gossip, as well as sharing his concerns with the highly conflicted Sister James, who has her own conflicts with the more severe older nun. Throughout the play, playwright Shanley is especially careful not to reveal too much, leaving the judgment of what has happened up to the audience, while also setting up credible situations and discussions of the conflicts between the “old” and “new” ways in the Catholic church, as well as real critiques of the hierarchy of the Church, and how the institution has handled accusations of abuse and misconduct that have been revealed over the years and have only become more well-known since the play’s first staging in 2005. 

This is a riveting, thoughtful, well-characterized drama, with excellent roles for all four of its players, all of whom excel in this production. Durbin’s Sister Aloysius is the driving force here, with a strong, severe but caring presence and an authentic-sounding New York accent that enhances her character rather than distracting. Durbin brings out the complexities in the character convincingly, and her influence on the equally excellent Creighton’s Sister James is palpable. Thomas is also impressive as the somewhat enigmatic Father Flynn, managing to convey both genuine concern for his students and the future of the Church, as well as a degree of self-interest and mystery that can lend credibility to Sister Aloysius’s concerns. Stevenson also makes a memorable impression in her relatively small role as Mrs. Muller–conveying the character’s own personal situation and concerns for her son thoroughly in one dramatic scene. 

The staging is inventive and thoughtful, using the small space at the Kranzberg Black Box theatre especially well. Matt Stuckel’s vivid set utilizes various areas of the performing space for ideal dramatic effect, aided by Tony Anselmo’s striking atmospheric lighting and Jacob Baxley’s excellent sound design. The costumes by Sam Hayes are also excellent, suiting the characters well and helping to set and maintain the time and place of the story. 

There’s also somewhat of a relational element to this play, considering the fairly large number of Catholic schools in the St. Louis area. No matter your religious or educational background, however, Doubt: a Parable has a lot to say, with its vivid characterizations and convincing performances telling a tale that’s sure to provoke much thought and discussion. Prism Theatre Company is still fairly new, but they are making their presence known with another excellent production. 

Kate Durbin, Laurell Stevenson
Photo by Kim Howland
Prism Theatre Company

Prism Theatre Company is presenting Doubt: a Parable at the Kranzberg Arts Center until April 30, 2023

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