Story: It’s 1964 and St. Nicholas parish in the Bronx has just enrolled its first black student, Donald Muller, in its heavily Irish and Italian grade school. Sister Aloysius, a rigidly conservative nun, serves as principal at the school, whose faculty includes an idealistic young teacher named Sister James. The principal chides her young teacher for being too lax with her students. She also expresses concern when Sister James tells her that Father Flynn, the charismatic and popular parish priest, has befriended Donald and had private meetings with him.
Sister Aloysius is aware of Fr. Flynn’s friendly relationship with various boys in the school, as he also coaches the basketball team. She invites him and Sister James to a meeting in her office, ostensibly to discuss the upcoming Christmas pageant. At the meeting, however, Sister Aloysius confronts Flynn with her suspicions that he has sexually abused Donald and other boys, which he angrily denies. Determined to prove her suspicions, Sister Aloysius arranges a conference with Donald’s parents for proof to remove any ‘doubt’ about her allegations.
Highlights: John Patrick Shanley’s drama won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 2005, and it’s easy to see why. It features just four characters, but each of them plays an integral role in the controversial plot. The strength of the story lies in the ability of performers playing the two major roles to present their characters in such a way as to instill the title feeling in audience members. Did Father Flynn molest Donald? Or is Sister Aloysius on a one-woman witch hunt to rid the parish of the modern priest and his ready acceptance of the welcoming ways of Vatican II?
Other Info: Sean Ruprecht Belt did a fine job directing his quartet of players in the solid production recently mounted by the Kirkwood Theatre Guild. Belt maintained a steady and sure pace to the proceedings, while scenic designer Lee Meyer well utilized the Reim Theatre stage to offer a trio of locales for various scenes, including a church pulpit at stage right, the cozy office of Sister Aloysius at stage left and a tidy little garden on the parish grounds in the middle. JD Wade’s lighting, Casey Mackenzie’s period costumes, Jeffery Berkbigler’s sound and DeLyle Bowen’s props all accentuated the presentation.
Jan Meyer was a forceful and indomitable spirit as the disciplined and highly principled Sister Aloysius. A bit tentative at first, she eventually offered a splendid and confident interpretation of the principal, working well in scenes with each of her counterparts, all the while determinedly trying to weld every detail and nuance to fit the principal’s point of view.
Stephen Peirick offered a fine contrast to the steely resolve of the principal as the upbeat, progressive priest. Peirick also capably displayed Father Flynn’s increasing agitation and anger at Sister Aloysius’s serious accusations, although a more tempered and cagy response would leave the audience unsure of what actually was true and what was supposition, as has been the case in some other productions I’ve seen.
Emily Bolt was delightful in the role of the impressionable Sister James, careful to avoid any controversy and always searching for the best in her students as well as her colleagues. Her tearful frustration at Sister Aloysius’s cynical approach to the rowdy, working-class students at the school well captured the young nun’s idealism and passion for her vocation.
In her single scene, Tarrah Wiley effectively conveyed the hopes and dreams of Mrs. Muller, a woman who suspects her son is “that way,” and only wants him to graduate from St. Nicholas and go to a high school that will give him a chance at a college education. Her goal is to protect Donald not only from bullies in the local public school but also the wrath of her husband.
Doubt is a serious and tough drama for any theater company to tackle, but under Ruprecht Belt’s careful guidance Kirkwood Theatre Guild offered an effective presentation.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center
Dates: Run concluded
Photos courtesy of John Lamb