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Standing out from the Frock

by Archives March 10, 2009

Last month, the film version of Doubt starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman left the Oscars empty handed. Contrasting this lousy showing is the Centaur Theater’s version of Doubt, for it’s a winner.
With a simplistic black set and a couple of chairs used as props, Doubt recreates the sombre mood of a 1964 Bronx Catholic school after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Within this dark time arose a cultural revolution. The winds of change can even – or especially – be found in the staunch Catholic school.
Father Flynn is an easy-going, basketball playing minister. He’s shaking things up at St. Nicholas Church School, causing its conservative principal, Sister Aloysius, to worry. She dislikes everything about Flynn, from his new school method of Catholicism to the way his nails are kept, to the ballpoint pen he uses instead of ink.
But she has noticed something more disturbing than the length of his nails.
Sister Aloysius is convinced that Father Flynn has made advances at some of the young altar boys, one of them being Donald Muller, the school’s first black pupil.
“The little sheep lagging behind is the one the wolf goes for,” she says, explaining why the bullied Muller would be targeted in the previously all-white school.
Sister Aloysius enlists the help of Sister James, a young, optimistic teacher, to take down Father Flynn. She furthers Sister Aloysius’ suspicions, reporting that Donald Muller came back to class with alcohol on his breath after spending time in the rectory with Father Flynn.
The issue is tiptoed around until Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn finally duke it out, bringing finality to the situation.
However, doubts still linger. Even Sister Aloysius is uncertain, breaking down in the final scene, tortured by the doubts that she had previously kept at bay.
Playwright John Patrick Shanley made a point to leave the play without resolution. It is up to the audience to decide whether Sister Aloysius was saving a young boy from a
pedophile’s grip, or if she created a story to maintain the school’s strict status quo.
The success of this production can partly be attributed to the mostly strong cast of actors. Brenda Robins as the tough-as-nails Sister Aloysius is a sensation; she is at once stoic and clinically detached, while still capable of unleashing an impassioned crusader.
Her sparring partner, Alain Goulem as Father Flynn, is also up to par. He nails a Bronx accent while coming off as sleazy and at times, sincere.
Lucinda Davis, as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the molested child in question, moulds her seven minutes of stage time with finesse. She is fierce and heartbreaking when trying to convince Sister Aloysius to keep her son at St. Anthony’s, no matter the circumstances.
The big letdown of such a powerful cast is Lina Roessler as Sister James. Her performance is lacklustre; most of her dialogue feels forced and overly rehearsed. Worse yet, her attempt at a Bronx accent comes and goes, at best sounding Australian, at worst, sounding like Gilda Radner doing a Barbara Walters impersonation with a head cold.
Aside from the small casting blunder, the play is seamless.
Robins, in an interview on the Centaur’s website, sarcastically says that Doubt “is sort of, a bit like High School Musical 3, but in habits [and] set in the church.” There is, however, one discernible similarity between the two; they both can appeal to a younger audience.
The performance I attended had many young college students and couples present. They may have been there because of the Oscar hype, but they enjoyed it because of the contemporary issues.
Although Doubt is marketed as a play about uncertainty within the church, it’s really about trusting instincts and feminism within a patriarchal society. Issues that any college student can, no doubt, relate to.

Doubt is playing at the Centaur Theater from now until March 29. Student tickets are $24, adult tickets are $32. Visit www.centaurtheater.com for more information.

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