SHOWING : February 26, 2010 - March 13, 2010
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Set at a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, Doubt concerns an older nun, Sister Aloysius, who
does not approve of teachers' offering friendship and compassion over the discipline she feels
students need in order to face the harsh world. When she suspects a new priest of sexually
abusing a student, she is faced with the prospect of charging him with unproven allegations and
possibly destroying his career as well as her own. To help build her case, she asks for help from
an idealistic young nun, who finds her faith in compassion challenged, and the mother of the
accused boy, who is protective of her son, the first black student ever admitted to St. Nicholas. (
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The Certain Blindness of the Doubtless Mind|
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 ||
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.
During election seasons, 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. 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? As the Alliance Theatre did several years ago, Pumphouse Players is encouraging its audiences to choose whether or not they believe Father Flynn is guilty or not guilty. In my own humble opinion, any certainty of Father Flynn’s guilt is beside the point, making this an exercise that actually undercuts the main theme of the play, asking us to tap into a certainty that has no more basis than Sister Aloysius’ suspicions. 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 actually 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. Being a non-professional suburban venue, the set and production are much more scaled-down and intimate than the Alliance’s mounting. This smaller scale lets the actors play with subtleties and nuances large houses cannot accommodate. And, for the most part, these actors are up to the challenge.
Alan Phelps gives Father Flynn a warmth that is contagious, that threatens to ignite the desperation Sister Aloysius’ actions kindle in him. His performance lets us know there is something in his past he would rather keep hidden, something that may or may not have anything at all to do with the accusations leveled against him. As Sister Aloysius, Peg Thon is all starch and authority. But she is also surprisingly vulnerable, making her last scene ring a little truer than I would have expected. In smaller roles, Leigh-Ann Campbell and Michele Elliott-Curry are credible and moving. Director Jeanne Young keeps the pace flowing nicely, and has used the limitations of this Cartersville venue to full advantage.
I do have to confess a little irritation at the intrusive intermission. This is a short play, usually performed as an extended one-act, and the intermission here actually worked to break the momentum of the play, giving us a ”breather” right when we least want it. Still and all, this is not a fatal flaw.
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 (BKRudy@aol.com)
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