New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

Walter Kerr Theatre

In John Patrick Shanley’s stunning play, “Doubt,” which just transferred from off-to-on Broadway, there are no answers. There are only questions, only doubts. But, as it happens, doubts are a truer reflection of life as it is really lived.

Furthermore, Shanley’s questions—doubts, if you will—are posed so lucidly that he forces the viewers to confront them head-on. It is a play which sends the audiences out into the night still grappling with very substantive issues. What is goodness, decency? What is evil (sin, to pose it in Catholic terms)? How shall we deal with our fellow man? Should we stand in judgment of others? Should we live by an external set of rules or make our own rules true to our own instincts?

The story concerns a nun, one Sister Aloysius, a school principal, who operates by the old pre-Vatican II dogma—discipline, distance, character-building, rigidity. The Parish priest Father Flynn, a product of the newer progressive thinking, chooses to bring warmth and human contact, as he explains it, into his operation. But Sister Aloysius suspects the Father Flynn of child molestation, a suspicion based more on instinct than actual fact. Nevertheless, she is unwavering in her thinking and accuses him directly. He responds with outrage, and thus the battle is joined. The story is complicated further by the boy in question, a boy whose homosexuality has made him a pariah. His father beats him, other boys mock him. Moreover, he is the only black child in this all-white Catholic school. As his mother points out to Sister Aloysius, Father Flynn is the only one who has shown the boy kindness, a fact which she values deeply.

In this 90-minute non-stop production, under Doug Hughes’ direction, all elements—story, cast, stage design--fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. It packs a powerful wallop, with a superb cast headed by Cherry Jones and Brian F. O’Byrne, and also featuring Heather Goldenhersh and Adriane Lenox. Jones, the very core of this piece, appears to be hard as nails, for example, admonishing a young nun to emphasize discipline, not love, in her instruction. But beneath that tough exterior, one suspects, is an admirable person who cares deeply for her young charges. This may be performance as much as text. It is difficult not to relate to Jones’ portrayal with some empathy.

But what is truly in the heart of Sister Aloysius is, like everything in this play, open to interpretation. That is the very strength of this play. “Doubt,” like living itself, is full of doubts.

-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 1, 2005

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