Doubt, A Parable at Ten Thousand Things Theater

Kris Nelson as Father Flynn and Sally Wingert as Sister Aloysius.

Does anyone doubt Father Flynn’s innocence?

John Patrick Shanley‘s masterful Doubt, A Parable (Ten Thousand Things Theater, through March 6) is often portrayed as a mystery.  Did Flynn, as Sister Aloysius so stridently claims, really commit “an indiscretion” with the young and troubled altarboy Donald Muller?  Did he feed Muller holy wine, and then, in the sacristy itself, did he, could he have…?  It’s too horrible to contemplate.  But is there any evidence that something untoward took place?

Alas, there is not.  Father Flynn is innocent and nothing convincingly suggests otherwise.  Thus the play becomes simply a harrowing portrait of a bitter and cynical woman willing to let vicious gossip-mongering contaminate a school, a parish, and a good man’s life.  This works beautifully, but it is a – slight – diminution of the play’s possibilities.  In the grips of an hallucination, Aloysius’s cry at the end, “I have such doubts”, doesn’t quite, for me, land.

But I quibble.  Doubt is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable pieces of theater to grace Twin Cities stages in a long time.  The writing is muscular and gripping, without a pause or even a comma out of place.  As a portrait of a time – the mid-60s – when the world and the Catholic Church were changing quickly, the play excels.  As a portrait of a creative woman slipping inexorably into a poisonous hell of her own making, the play is superlative.  The intermissionless 75 minutes went by in a heartbeat.

As Sister Aloysius, Sally Wingert is glorious.  And here is her secret: she’s funny.  Beacuse of this her Aloysius has a depth, a breath-taking punch, that the mannered Meryl Streep (in the film) barely approaches.  We truly feel what is being lost.  See this play for Ms. Wingert’s work.

The other performers also thrill: Kris Nelson‘s Father Flynn is spirited and compelling.  Regina Marie Williams as Mrs. Muller has a single scene, and she amazes with a poised world-weariness that’s cynical yet somehow life-affirming.  Donald Muller is lucky to have her for his mother.  As Sister James, Jane Froiland strikes the correct balance between romantic idealism and suspicion.  Director Peter Rothstein has done excellent work.

TTT, as is well-known, does stripped down productions, in churches, prisons, rest homes.  No lights, minimal sets, emphasis entirely on the acting.  Doubt has now settled into its “public run” at Open Book.

You need to see this play.  Immediately contact the TTT box office and get a ticket – they’re going quickly.

Definitely recommended.

For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.

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