Review: 'Doubt' Has Bigger Bolder Cast

By Michael Kuchwara
The Associated Press, carried in Centre Daily
February 14, 2006

NEW YORK - The avenging angel at the center of "Doubt," John Patrick Shanley's Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, has just gotten bigger, bolder and less subtle.

The esteemed English actress Eileen Atkins has now taken over the role of Sister Aloysius, the take-no-prisoners nun who believes a parish priest is having an improper relationship with a young boy at the local parochial school. And she is determined to bring him down.

Admittedly, Atkins has a tough act to follow: Cherry Jones, whose nuanced performance expertly drove home the uncertainty that underpins Shanley's fine drama. Jones was forceful without being overbearing and, in a weird way, strangely likable.

Atkins, sporting a pronounced Irish accent and what looks like a permanently pinched profile, blazes with an aggressive theatricality. Right from the first moment she appears on stage, you know this is a woman who has definite opinions. There is no room to maneuver in this technically accomplished yet black-and-white performance.

As Father Flynn, Ron Eldard is not as charismatic as the role's original actor, Brian F. O'Byrne, depending more on bluster to get through the priest's big confrontation scene with his accuser.

And Jena Malone, the play's third newcomer, hasn't yet made the role of Sister James, the impressionable, goodhearted young nun, her own. Right now, the actress seems to be channeling her predecessor, even down to copying the nun's odd but endearing accent.

Still on aboard, though, is the Tony-winning Adriane Lenox as the boy's distraught yet curiously practical mother. Her short, single scene remains a model of compressed emotion, beautifully handled.

The questions raised by Shanley's remarkable play are still there, and those coming to the production for the first time will still be intrigued by the story he is telling, a tale he repeatedly has referred to as "a parable." Now, though, because of the diminished ambiguity of its key performances, this "Doubt" seems more of a sermon than it should be.


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