A large crucifix watches over the cast and audience of the Westport Country Playhouse. The weight of the cross hangs on Sister Aloysius (Betsy Aidem), who is convinced that Father Flynn (Eric Bryant) is sexually abusing the boys of the school.
“Doubt: A Parable” was produced in 2004, two years after the Boston Globe’s explosive scandal of the Catholic Church. It follows the story of four people linked to one person: a young boy, the first black student in the school, and conveniently taken under Father Flynn’s wing. Even with no solid proof, Sister Aloysius is determined to oust Father Flynn from the school after noticing he has taken a strange liking to Donald Muller. Her colleague, Sister James (Kerstin Anderson), who has been part of organized religion for all of her life, finds it difficult to believe that such a charismatic and kind man would commit such a crime. Even Donald Muller’s mother (Sharina Martin) is willing to stay quiet about the situation, as she doesn’t want her son’s education at the mostly white school to be threatened.
With a four person cast (Donald Muller is never shown), one cast member has the potential to outshine the other. Yet each person masterfully conquers their role. Bryant’s charming smile and personality can easily convince audience members of his innocence. He quickly shifts to a more cunning persona, however, when giving a sermon aimed at gossiping members of society or when attempting to convince Sister James of his innocence. Anderson takes on the gentle and docile Sister James who struggles with Sister Aloysius’ harsher teaching practices and pessimistic view of the world. Her voice is sweet, her disposition kind — she’s like Miss Honey from “Matilda”. She portrays the heart of every genuine teacher. Sister James’ concern is shared with Mrs. Muller, who is the mother of Donald. Martin only has one scene in the entire play, and yet it leaves a lasting impact. Mrs. Muller takes part in a heated conversation with Aloysius, who is attempting to report the potential relationship between Flynn and Donald. And yet Mrs. Muller dissuades her. Such a scandal — especially when she reveals that her young son is secretly gay — could not only ruin his position in a good school, but his potential, promising future. It’s a difficult role to play, knowing that the mother is suggesting that the sexual abuse of her son continues. However, the passion in Martin’s words makes the audience consider, and understand, her point of view. After all, Donald will only be in school until the end of the semester. Then, he’s off to high school. What’s wrong with a couple more months?
But it’s Betsy Aidem who is truly the heart of this play. Sister Aloysius is an insanely complicated woman. While she’s as traditional as traditional gets — she believes Frosty the Snowman is too secular and the song should not be allowed in the school — her steadfast belief in Father Flynn’s guilt is progressive in nature. She takes unprecedented steps to illustrate his guilt, ignoring the structured hierarchy and rules of the church and instead taking matters into her own hands. Despite having no solid proof, she is certain this crime has been committed. Aidem’s skills were best brought to light when a distraction was caused on stage thanks to a wasp. This insect landed on the floor, drawing the attention of all audience members. After a minute, Aidem took her shoe and slammed it down on the wasp, moving the ball of her foot in circles to thoroughly crush it. She marched right over to the desk on stage, grabbed a tissue from the drawer, and wiped the remnants of her shoe. It almost seemed staged.
Despite the compelling words from these four characters and their respective actors, Father Flynn’s guilt or innocence is left for the audience to decide.
Theater-goers can determine who’s right or wrong until November 21. But even after the actors take their final bow and the curtains close, audience members will continue to have their own doubts.