DOUBT: A PARABLE
Presented by: Newcastle Theatre Company
Venue: NTC Theatre, Lambton (49524958)
Season: Ends February 14
THE opening scene of Doubt has Father Flynn, an amiable parish priest, declare at the end of a short and engaging sermon that ‘‘Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.’’
That statement is explored in John Patrick Shanley’s riveting Pulitzer Prize-winning play as the forward-looking Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, the conservative elderly principal of a Catholic school in New York suburban area the Bronx, continually engage in verbal conflict.
Sister Aloysius believes she has found a way to be rid of Father Flynn when he takes a 12- year-old student and altar boy to the rectory after an incident in the church, and she tries to get the boy’s young teacher, Sister James, onside. Sister James is reluctant to become involved in her principal’s scheme, and finds herself moving backwards and forwards between belief in the two combatants.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the boy is the school’s first Negro student and, in 1964, the time of the story, communities like the Bronx, with its population dominated by descendants of Irish and Italian Catholic settlers, were resisting integration moves. And when the boy’s mother, Mrs Muller, visits the school at the invitation of Sister Aloysius to discuss his situation, she reveals things about her son that add to the complexities and doubts.
Director John Wood and the four actors – Luke Power (Father Flynn), Claire Williams (Sister Aloysius), Britt Ferry (Sister James) and Precila Selui (Mrs Muller) – ensure that audience members’ assessments of the characters’ words and actions constantly change as doubts arise.
While Power gives street cred and warmth to the priest in early scenes such as one which has him dressed as a physical education teacher and talking to unseen students about their basketball tactics, later incidents make some of those words unsettling.
Likewise, the smiles and laughs that Claire Williams elicits with critical remarks Sister Aloysius makes about then-new ballpoint pens give way to more sombre looks when Father Flynn reacts to her insistence that they not be used by writing the word ‘‘intolerance’’ in his diary.
Britt Ferry, whose Sister James is often the voice of reason, is driven to express viewer- shared frustration when Sister Aloysius angrily declares that ‘‘I’ll bring him down, with or without your help.’’ And though Precila Selui’s Mrs Muller has just one scene, the disclosures she makes about her son and the family’s ambitions for him reveal there is more to his background and relationship with Father Flynn than Sister Aloysius has put forward.
Robyn Greenwell’s set design, with art work by Graham Wilson, reflects the timelessness of the story, as the action switches between a pulpit, Sister Aloysius’s office, and the large courtyard and garden space between the school and church.