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a Drama
by John Patrick Shanley

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 2762

SHOWING : April 02, 2008 - May 04, 2008



Winner! 2005 Tony Award for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Audiences and critics around the country agree – Doubt is one of the best new plays of the last decade. A clash between certainty and ambiguity explodes when one woman searches for truth in the face of potentially unsettling events. As suspicion, rumors and fear challenge her faith that innocence is always black and white, you’ll be riveted to your seat for the duration of this 90-minute ethical thriller. This is one play that will keep you talking for days to come.

Doubt was the most honored play of the 2005 theatre season and one of the most lauded American plays of the last 50 years. It achieved the rare feat of both critical and popular success, racking up every major award of the New York theatre season, and played to capacity crowds on Broadway for more than 500 performances. Shanley’s masterpiece takes a classic “he said/she said” setup and transforms it into an epic battle of iron wills. The drama is heart-pounding, and Shanley’s writing is razorblade sharp.

Director Susan V. Booth
Sister James Cara Mantella
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


The Certain Blindness of the Doubtless Mind
by Dedalus
Friday, April 18, 2008
Americans love certainty.

We wrap ourselves in it like a blanket against the cold winds of chance and chaos.

We revere our leaders who display it in the face of opposition, in the face of circumstance.

We revile those leaders who let new evidence sway them from their course, making “waffle” a verb of contempt, rather than a breakfast of delight.

We reject entertainment and art with even the slightest hint of ambiguity.

In this election season, we memorize every poll and we encourage candidates to “drop out” solely to give us certainty before the election. And candidates do drop out when faced with the faintest hint of uncertainty of results.

On a Washington Post Discussion thread, there is a writer who expresses the utmost certainty that the Catholic Church is infallible, that the Bible is the verbatim transcript of God’s words, and that all Atheists are Satan’s instruments on Earth. With the same strength of certainty, he proclaims the Clintons to be ultimate liars and the Bush administration to be God’s hand in America, stating that there is no such thing as American responsibility for civilian Iraqi deaths, since the terrorists bear the ultimate responsibility for our presence there. Those who debate him (myself included) argue from a position of equal certainty.

On another thread, another writer proclaims with absolute certainty that Relativity is a Scientific fraud and its perpetuation is the result of a Jewish conspiracy, that Black Holes do not exist and Time has no physical reality, and that Stephen Hawking is a “retarded clown.” Those who debate him (myself included) argue from a position of equal certainty.

In the face of this, what hope does John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” have? It says basically that the beginning of wisdom is Doubt, that Certainty leaves us Blind, and that there can be no growth, no change without that seed of Doubt.

Sister Aloysius is the principal of a Bronx Catholic school in 1964. The recent assassination of President Kennedy has left Catholics swimming in a sea of doubt, grabbing for any lifeline of certainty within reach. Sister Aloysius fixates on Father Flynn, a young priest who shows kindness to the boys in her charge. She finds that very kindness suspect, believing it masks a more sinister and hidden behavior. She is certain of her judgment, certain of his sin, certain that any defense must be a lie or cover-up. And she crusades against him for that.

The play is deliberately ambiguous – is Father Flynn guilty or not guilty? The Alliance encourages on-line discussion, talkbacks to let us express our own certainty of the answer. And that answer will, necessarily change from person to person, from viewing to viewing. It can even change from production to production. I daresay, our certainty will be different after seeing the movie version in December – Philip Seymour Hoffman will be playing Father Flynn, and will be carrying the baggage of our memories of him in a series of very sleazy roles. At the Alliance, the only baggage Thomas Piper carries is our memory of him as young Chris Kayser in several years of “A Christmas Carol.” And he gives this role a very kind, very compelling reading, which would overbalance the scale, if not for Pamela Nyberg’s equally convincing portrayal of Sister Aloysius.

In my own humble opinion, any certainty of Father Flynn’s guilt is beside the point. The only certainty we can draw is that Sister Aloysius acts on a gut instinct rather than on any real evidence, or, in fact, need. She literally lies to get at Father Flynn. In the final analysis, we can’t even say with certainty that this is abominable behavior – if Father Flynn is, in fact, guilty, it is, in fact, heroic behavior.

I can say, with a certainty borne of too many plays seen over too many years, that this is a well-acted, well-produced, compelling work. This is one of the best set and light designs I’ve seen this year – Todd Rosenthal’s set utilizes the extreme vertical spaces of the Alliance Stage, and quickly accommodates the more mundane garden and office interludes. Deb Sullivan’s lighting brings it to life, conceptually putting the sunlight out of reach of the characters, symbolically forcing the weight of Church History to tower over the proceedings in stern, gray judgment.

And the performances by Mr. Piper, Cara Mantella as the young and idealistic Sister James, Donna Biscoe as Mrs. Muller (the mother who will do anything, allow anything, to ensure her son is happy and successful), and especially Ms. Nyberg are equally dynamic, vivid, and alive. Ms. Nyberg perfectly captures Sister Aloysius’ compulsion and stern ideology, even suggesting her animus towards Father Flynn may have layers she herself doesn't suspect. This is a production I am looking forward to seeing again, even though I still find (as I did when I first read the piece) the final line unconvincing and contrived.

In his introduction to the published script of this play, Mr. Shanley describes Certainty as nothing more than soul-deadening, life-numbing habit. He writes, “Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind. Doubt is nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the Present.” His play reminds us of this difficult truth, reminds us that we can be blindsided by what we don’t know, that what we do know can be wrong, and that too often, our certainties make us “sacrifice actual good for perceived virtue.”

The play is a powerhouse, and should not be missed. Of that I’m certain.

-- Brad Rudy (

4/18 Addendum – As a point to begin a discussion, I would say that any actor portraying Father Flynn must decide on his guilt or innocence. What effect will this choice have on the “balance” of the play? In my humble opinion, if Father Flynn is demonstrably and clearly innocent, Sister Aloysius becomes a shallow villain. If he is demonstrably and clearly guilty, she assumes heoric proportions that run counter to Mr. Shanley’s stated focus. So, for those who have seen the show, what choices does Mr. Piper make to bring his decision to light? I’ll add my thoughts after I’ve seen some of yours …. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
by Katruska
I had the pleasure of seeing Doubt on Broadway a few years ago and was able to have a conversation with Brian O'Byrne (Tony nominee for the role of Father Flynn) afterward. He said that he did make that choice (of guilt or innocence) early on in the rehearsal process and told no one . . . even his director, of the choice he made. It was an amazing and powerful performance. Having already seen it staged, I'm anxious to see this production and watch for the nuances and choices. Cherry Jones and Brian left you exhausted from the bouncing back and forth between who was the villain, victim and/or hero. I love that it could really go either way and that it brings such frustration!
No Doubt About it: It's a must-see production
by green2u
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Praise the Lord and pass the potatoes! Alliance is finally showcasing ATL’s immense local talent in three of the four roles in Doubt. And guess what? The 4th role, played by a NYC-based actress, is the weak link of an otherwise stellar, must-see production (thus the 4.5 rating)

While watching Doubt, visions of Turn of the Screw, Children’s Hour, and Bad Seed whirled in my head as all those "well made" plays deal with uncertainty and trying to uncover the truth. Set in 1964, Doubt even feels as if it were written in another era. It’s an old story, but nevertheless playwright John Patrick Shanley keeps the dialogue crackling as he ratchets up the stakes in each scene, building one upon the other.

The one weakness in his script is lack of background on the characters to help better understand their motivations. That’s where 3 of the 4 actors shine in creating well-rounded, flawed, multi-dimensional characters. Only Pamela Nyberg as Sister Aloysius fails to garner any sympathy in her one-note portrayal. Ms. Nyberg plays the Sister with a full throttle out-to-get you/take-no-prisoners attitude. Thus, at curtain, as she utters the last line of the play, I felt no sympathy for her character. I spoke to a friend who saw Cherry Jones’ award-winning performance in the role and asked him whether Ms. Jones had made some attempt to find humanity in the character. He said she had. It’s a shame: Quite a few local actresses could have performed miracles with this part and found some humanity in the Sister's hell-bent attitude. Josie Burgin-Lawson and Carolyn Cook are two actresses that come to mind.

While I can fault Susan Booth for that one casting error, I have nothing but praise for her overall direction of the 90-minutes without intermission. She has paced the piece like a pot of water going from simmer to boil. Also praiseworthy, is the foreboding Gothic arches towering over the proceedings. The cavernous stage is actually claustrophobic as the arches lean forward, almost as if the Catholic Church is about to come down around us.

If Cara Mantella as Sister James does not get a Suzi Award nomination, I will lose my religion. I’ve seen and worked onstage with Ms. Mantella and she is always excellent. But as one friend said (and I agree) it’s as if the part of Sister James was written for her (I’m gonna check to see if Shanley is one of her Facebook friends). It’s such a showcase piece for her, so vulnerable, fragile, naïve. She has truly created something wonderful and not-to-be-missed in Sister James.

Thomas Piper as Father Flynn keeps us guessing: Did he or didn’t he? He finds that perfect balance. Donna Biscoe as Mrs. Muller has probably the most intense scene in the play and (for me) drops the biggest bombshell. She has only one scene, but she makes the most of it as a mother fiercely fighting for her son to succeed in life, even if that means....well you will have to see it as that's all I'm gonna say! Ms. Biscoe plays the mother with an Eyes-on-the-Prize conviction; but something in her demeanor hints at “this is not right but it’s what I have to do.” It’s that kind of getting inside the character, giving us glimpses, that is seen again and again by all but Ms. Nyberg.

Shanley calls this work a parable, (a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson). The main lesson I learned is that Alliance does not need to go outside ATL to find actors who are up to the challenge of creating exciting, professional theatre.



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