“Doubt” Music Theatre of Connecticut
John Patrick Shanley’s brilliant drama “Doubt” wears well with time, offering theatergoers new insights with each new production. With its ambivalence, “Doubt” sends audiences away with new doubts each time, as they attempt to determine where guilt lies.
Thus it is with the current production of “Doubt,” now at the small underground venue of the Music Theatre of Connecticut. At MTC, viewers and players alike are huddled together in intimate, claustrophobic contact as they watch the drama unfold at a Catholic church and school. In this MTC setting, it is easy to experience the effects of an oppressive regime. Whether the oppressive regime is that of Sister Aloysius Beauvier, principal of St. Nicholas Elementary School—or the Catholic Church itself—is open to interpretation.
Though “Doubt” is a play about doubts, Sister Aloysius, it seems, has no doubts, as she relentlessly attacks Father Brendan Flynn. She accuses him of sexually abusing a young black boy (a new student and the only black boy in the school). Her attack is based, not on solid evidence, but on her instinct. Her view of the world is one of distrust, wariness. She plays by the rules (her rules) and rules with an iron will, claiming that is the way to forge teachers and students of character. Not surprisingly, she is hated by all.
Despite Sister Aloysius’s self-assurance, doubts permeate “Doubts.” The young nun Sister James has her doubts—about Father Flynn’s guilt, about her school principal’s teaching philosophy, about her own teaching skills. Father Flynn’s behavior raises doubts. Was he merely offering warmth to the boy—or was he guilty as charged?
Director Kevin Connors has used the MTC stage limitations to his advantage, ingeniously moving the action from Father Flynn’s pulpit to the principal’s office to the outside garden. His cast of four succeeds in varying degrees. Katie Sparer is a steely, scary Sister Aloysius, giving off sparks with her performance, but tends to be one-dimensional. It is not until the end of the play that she reveals a crack in the façade.
Jim Schilling seems uncomfortable in his role as Father Flynn, but gradually gains assurance as the play progresses. Marty Bongfeldt is a warm, sympathetic Sister James, creating a nice contrast to Sparer. But the director would do well to tamp down her over the-top hysteria. Best of all is the impeccable performance of Lynnette R. Freeman, who plays the boy’s mother. Granted she is given what might arguably be considered the best scene in the play—brief though it is. It gives Freeman the chance to take off and fly, and it is her breath-taking scene which raises this “Doubt” to new heights.
In all, this “Doubt” is worth seeing, if only to evaluate Father Flynn once more. Is he guilty as charged? Or should we have doubts?
This review appears in the Connecticut Post and on nytheaterscene.com