Thomas, the apostle who had a hard time believing Jesus rose from the dead, is forever branded in our minds with the slur, "doubting Thomas." While it's debatable whether Thomas' lack of faith was a sin, the notion of doubt is complicated and lacks the ease that absolute certainty brings.
The San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre played with the range of emotions and responses, from total faith in an idea of the truth to utter uncertainty, in its opening night of Doubt: A Parable on March 29.
- Photos Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design
- SUSPICIONS When a nun and principal of a Catholic school, Sister Aloysius (Jody Hovland), suspects improper conduct between a priest and a student, she'll stop at nothing to uncover the truth.
The Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning drama by John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck), which focuses on the Catholic Church, comes to the local stage at a timely moment, as a grand jury report earlier this year made headlines with the news that Roman Catholic leaders in Pennsylvania covered up decades of child sex abuse involving more than 1,000 victims and hundreds of priests.
Even with current events and the long, sordid history of the Catholic Church aside, Doubt: A Parable still wouldn't be a comfortable play. Instead, it leaves audiences with only questions and conflicting emotions, as they grasp for the truth.
The one-act show has only four actors and takes place mainly in a church and the principal's office of the adjoining Catholic school. The play is set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx during the fall of 1964. It opens with a sermon by Father Flynn (Jeff Salsbury seen in Less Miserable at the Great American Melodrama), a beloved and progressive parish priest, addressing the idea of uncertainty in a new light.
"Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone," Flynn says.
While his words offer an uplifting spin on an otherwise crippling emotion, things quickly spiral once Father Flynn leaves the pulpit. After a student behaves strangely in class, the principal of Nicholas Church School, Sister Aloysius (Jody Hovland, directed 39 Steps and Rabbit Hole), shares her suspicions with his teacher, Sister James (Kathryn Curran, in her debut SLO Repertory Theatre performance) that Father Flynn may be having an inappropriate relationship with the boy.
To complicate matters further, the student is the first and only black pupil at the school, who's already ostracized by the other children. A meeting between Sister Aloysius and the boy's mother, Mrs. Muller (Noelle McGhee-Westbay, Building the Wall), reveals that the boy's father hits him and, thus, Mrs. Muller is happy he gets any attention from a male figure like Father Flynn.
- Photos Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design
- OH YE OF LITTLE FAITH Despite her boss's concerns, a nun and teacher, Sister James (Kathryn Curran), tangles with her doubts over Father Flynn's (Jeff Salsbury) alleged wrongdoing.
With director Ron Clark (When the Rain Stops Falling, Rabbit Hole) at the helm, the cast of Doubt: A Parable swiftly navigates the emotional gamut. Salsbury as Flynn hovers between righteous indignation and possible guilt while Hovland as Sister Aloysius is crushingly absolute in her view of the truth and her personal quest to do what's right for her student. Curran as Sister James wrestles heavily and excruciatingly with her own doubts and thoughts on the matter, and McGhee-Westbay as Mrs. Muller refuses to see what may very well be happening to her boy in the name of getting him a good education.
Doubt gets a bad reputation, but as Shanley points out in an essay on his play, A Preface to Doubt, A Parable, it also lacks the ease of absolute certainty.
"Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy," Shanley writes. "Because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite—it is a passionate exercise." Δ
Arts Writer Ryah Cooley questions everything. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.