Compelling Cast Raises 'Doubt' in New Award-Winning Production

By L. Pierce Carson
Napa Valley Register [California]
November 12, 2006

The ripped-from-the-headlines slant is less compelling than the spellbinding portraits drawn by the outstanding cast of "Doubt," Bronx-born John Patrick Shanley's award-winning drama that opened mid-week at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theater

Winner of both Pulitzer Prize and Tony awards, "Doubt" chronicles the suspicions that a parochial school principal has about the possible sexual misconduct of the parish priest. Set in a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, a strong-willed woman wrestles with conscience and uncertainty as she is faced with concerns about one of her male colleagues.

This new play by the Academy Award-winning author of the film "Moonstruck" dramatizes topical issues within a world re-created with knowing detail and a judicious eye.

The 90-minute, one-act drama revolves around Sister Aloysius, a rigidly doctrinaire school principal in her 50s who strictly controls both the staff and students. A late entrant into the religious life, Sister Aloysius was married to a man killed during World War II, and the school has become her life. Sister James, a young teacher in her 20s, is the exact opposite -- a young woman who loves her students and is warm and friendly with them.

When Sister Aloysius concludes that the school's first black student is getting too much attention from Father Brendan Flynn, she sets the play's central conflict in motion. Though she has no evidence that anything untoward has occurred, she proceeds as if the student has been sexually abused by the priest, never doubting her conclusions.

The issue becomes more complex when both Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn approach church hierarchy -- she to ask for an investigation and he to protect his reputation.

Set in an era when sexual abuse was not receiving the attention it has in recent years, "Doubt" shows the damage that can occur when someone believes too easily in a specific truth, whether that be the truth as defined by prevailing mores, as within a religious community, or the kind of truth that one searches out with judge and jury.

"Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty," Father Flynn tellingly declares in a brief sermon that opens Shanley's play.

From that point on, the audience is drawn into the conflict by incredibly strong performances by all hands.

Drawing an engrossing portrait of the rigid nun is one of the best actresses on the stage today, Cherry Jones. She and Adriane Lenox, who is captivating as the black student's mother, were both honored with Tony Awards for their efforts in the Broadway production of "Doubt." Jones is smply magnificent -- her chilling performance will surely raise gooseflesh.

Equally convincing as parish priest and young parochial school teacher are Chris McGarry and Lisa Joyce.

Doug Hughes' taut direction and John Lee Beatty's depressing principal office/schoolyard settings help set the mood and paint an accurate picture of life in a devout environment.

"Doubt has gotten a bad reputation," Shanley begins in explaining why audiences are left to decide for themselves whether Sister Aloysius is wise or overly zealous in her determination to expose the charismatic Father Flynn as a pedophile. "People who are utterly certain are vulnerable to a brand of foolishness that people who maintain a level of doubt are not."

Playing at the Golden Gate Theater through Dec. 3, performances are scheduled Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. There is a special Sunday night performance at 7:30 on Nov. 26. For tickets, log onto


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