Doubt (La Duda)
By John Patrick Shanley
Adapted and directed by Matilda Corral
Produced by I.E. Productions C.A., from Venezuela for Teatro De La Luna’s Eleventh International Festival of Hispanic Theater
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
What universalizes John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt (La Duda), about a priest suspected of pedophilia, are the adaptations director Matilda Corral makes. We are in a Catholic school in Venezuela instead of an Irish-Italian school in Northeastern United States. But the explosive issues and controversy are the same. When in doubt, is it wise to take action? Corral establishes a sense of unease immediately. A screen projection of a stained glass window displays a stern Madonna with staring eyes. Discordant electronic music rains down from everywhere.
The plot is simple but the characters are complex. The four characters come across as distinctly individualized, conflicted human beings depicted by actors who are uniformly excellent and profoundly moving. Sister Eloisa (Elba Escobar) runs her school with an iron fist. Her values and style are clearly those of the past generation. When an inexperienced nun and teacher, Sister Josefina (Maria Carolina Semprum) innocently reports that one of her male students, after a private meeting with the charismatic assistant pastor Father Luis (Raphael Romero) in the rectory, came to class with alcohol on his breath, Sister Eloisa concludes the priest has molested the boy. She bases her suspicions on the circumstantial evidence that the priest grows his nails long and is, in her opinion, overly friendly with the male students. Surprisingly, the boy’s mother, Mrs. Blanco (Beatriz Vasquez) argues in favor of the relationship. Conflicting perceptions lead up to Father Luis’ resignation, leaving the characters and us with lingering questions about justice and the truth of what really happened.
Venezuelan director Corral, who recently received a Masters in Acting from the Actors Studio in New York, is an actors’ director. She takes risks. When Father Luis delivers the homily which opens the play, Romero speaks from a spotlighted podium; then moves out of the spotlight to the darker downstage area, closer to the audience, to tell the story about a sailor lost on a raft at sea under a starless sky. “When you are lost, you are not alone,” he concludes, and we feel a sense of intimacy as a part of the priest’s congregation. in 1964, two years after Vatican II modernized the Catholic Church. We are in a time – 1964, two years after Vatican II began to modernize the Catholic Church – when values and teaching, even preaching styles, are in flux.
Escobar, well-known in films and stage in Venezuela, gives a multi-leveled performance. She starts out as a petty, somewhat comic martinet, but develops stature until her moral force seems massive. By the end of play, Sister Eloisa is a character you want to trust. Although her obvious disdain for the warmth of intimacy and compassion makes her hard to like, her confession of doubt at the end makes her pathetically human.
Romero is equally strong in their male/female battle. In their climactic scene in Sister Eloisa’s office, Romero’s self-defense is one of controlled rage, expressively convincing and sympathetic. He sounds innocent in spite of his resignation, which Sister Eloisa interprets as a confession of guilt.
The boy whom Father Luis has allegedly victimized is African-American in the English-language version. Here, the child is white, which removes race as an explanation for the brutal alienation he feels from his classmates and allows us to focus on his behavior, and more specifically, his gayness. Vasquez pulls out all the stops and gives an impassioned plea as a mother, powerless to protect her son from a father who beats him, who sees his relationship with Father Luis – as dangerous as it might be – as her boy’s only chance at safety and happiness.
Carrel has done even more to adapt this 2005 Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winning play from an American to a Venezuelan setting by staying true to the underlying themes. Character names are Spanish. References to historical figures: for example, FDR becomes Venezuela’s founder and liberator, Simon Bolivar. But what’s important is that underlying whatever adaptations are made in the dialogue, the deeper concern is still manifest: In an over-regulated world, what’s horrific is the way a society discourages touching, intimacy, warmth and emotional bonding and isolates all of us, one from the other.
These magnificent actors from Venezuela perform the play with an expressive bravura that clarifies the moral questions. We in the audience have to supply the last judgment; and we leave the theater discussing the doubts that linger.
If you possibly can, go and see this production that ends this year’s Hispanic International Festival.
Running Time: 90 minutes. No intermission. Headsets provided for English translation.
When: Sat. Nov. 15, 3:00 p.m. and 8 p.m. See: www.teatrodelaluna.org for details on the rest of the season, continuing Feb. 12, 2009.
Where: Gunston Arts Center-Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington VA 22206. Free Parking.
Tickets: $30, regular admission; Students and Seniors over 60, $25.
Childcare provided during Sat. matinees, 24 hour notice required, $10 per child.
Info and Reservations: 703-548-3092. Consult website: