No 'Doubt': Moore OnStage Production is Good
This “You’ve got to learn to live life with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. When facts are few, speculation floods in to fill the void.”
That speculation, fueled by suspicion and jealousy, fuels the conflict at the heart of John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt-A Parable," presented by Moore OnStage at the Sunrise TheatER in Southern Pines through Sunday, March 11.
It's set in 1964 inside a highly structured Catholic school in a working-class parish in the Bronx. It's a time when change is beginning to form cracks in society's certainties and assumptions of safety. "Doubt" centers on the struggle between Sister Aloysius Beauvier, strongly portrayed by the compelling Lynda Clark, principal of the school, and a popular young priest, Father Brendan Flynn, convincingly portrayed by Jamey Helsman.
Sister Aloysius is cold and suspicious and believes in instilling fear, not only in her students but also in the nuns who answer to her in her position as principal of the school. Through Lynda Clark’s portrayal, we empathize and feel her struggle. She sees demons where others believe there are none. Is she correct?
She develops doubts about Father Flynn and his motives in mentoring the school's first black pupil. She is aided by information shared by the young boy's teacher, Sister James, played with youthful exuberance and naiveté by Juliet Eden. Sister James is relatively new to the teaching profession. She's enthusiastic and passionate about her work and students, a hindrance to her duties in the eyes of Sister Aloysius. Sister James is torn between what Sister Aloysius wants her to see and what she feels in her heart she actually sees. Juliet Eden’s performance provides depth that lends support to both sides of the conflict and introduces even more questions.
Sister Aloysius begins a campaign to get Father Flynn to confess to her what actually took place between him and the boy in the rectory.
Jamey Helsman plays Father Flynn with warmth, athleticism and humor. He's a new breed of priest, one who leads with compassion from the heart. His sermons come from daily observations, much to the chagrin of Sister Aloysius, but he refuses to confess to Sister Aloysius, and it seems he's hiding something. Or maybe not, as a member of the Catholic Church’s male-dominated world, he just resents a nun's questioning him. His motives and actions remain unclear.
That Sister Aloysius may be motivated by personal dislike as well as a desire to protect the boy is clear.
Neither Sister Aloysius nor Father Flynn is without fault. Both clearly have tempers and are unused to being challenged in their authority. It's a mystery that invites endless speculation and a variety of answers. Lynda Clark and Jamey Helsman are evenly matched and not afraid of revealing the humans beneath the religious garb, which makes their struggle even more intriguing. That helps to sway your sympathy and point of view more than once during the proceedings.
Thrown into the middle of the situation is Mrs. Muller, the student’s mother. Ruby Blackman was excellent as the devoted, pragmatic mother who only wants her son to have a chance to graduate.
Wisely, Shanley never provides a definitive resolution. That's deliberate.
Lynda Clark’s direction keeps the action moving and brings out the best in each character. The production is 90 minutes long with a 15-minute intermission, and the action and the evening fly by swiftly. This solidly produced; solidly acted drama will continue to engage you long after you've left the theater.
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