We may be some years removed from the height of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church and gave Spotlight its turn on the Academy stage. But even if those events are no longer above the frontpage fold every day, the applicability of John Patrick Shanley’s tale of morality in the face of ambiguity still feels very relevant.
For those unfamiliar, Doubt: A Parable explores the dynamics involved when Sister Aloysius (Wendy Wilmer), the principal at a Catholic elementary school, becomes convinced, despite very tenuous evidence, that one of the priests, Father Flynn (Evan Crump), is molesting a child at the school. Because the facts are never supposed to be explicit and objective truth can only exist in the minds of the viewer, the strength of the play is driven by the subtleties of the interplay among the characters. In this regard, SeeNoSun’s production is solid, though not exceptional.
The production has many things to recommend it: The venue at the Anacostia Arts Center is small and intimate, a setting very well suited to a drama primarily dependent on subtle, private conversations and uncertainty over whose side to take (make sure you grab a seat in the front row for maximum effect if you can).
The highlight of the show is Wilmer’s performance as Sister Aloysius, and it is gripping to watch her guide her character through a complex evolution of how the audience perceives her, from ice-cold intimidating schoolmarm to disempowered protector and finally to relentless crusader in pursuit of either justice or personal vendetta, depending on your point of view.
closes June 25, 2017
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The one drawback is that the direction seems to take a point of view as to whether the suspicions about Father Flynn are true. In the crucial confrontation between Flynn and Aloysius, Crump seems to interpret his character as guilty, and practically confesses in everything but words. In that context, Aloysius’ own subsequent uncertainty about her actions and the objective truth makes much less sense, and detracts from what should be an unsettling denouement. Outside of that, Crump’s performance is solid, though more charismatic in intimate conversations than in the sermon scenes.
Emily Gilson does well as Sister James, the young ingénue trapped between her belief in Father Flynn’s good intentions and her sense of self-preservation in catering to Sister Aloysius’ strategies to expose him. I also very much enjoyed the pathos and emotional complexity that Mary Miller-Booker brings to the brief role of Mrs. Muller, and I would be delighted to see her elsewhere in a more featured role.
Doubt seeks to highlight the fraught ambiguities of “what do you do when you’re just not sure”—and highlights the complexities and obstructions that sexism, racism, hierarchy and male privilege add to an already uncertain quest for truth. All in all, SeeNoSun’s production is up to the task. Could it use a little tweaking? Sure. But the acting and the venue make it well worth the admission.
Doubt by John Patrick Shanley . Directed by Michael Wright. Featuring: Wendy Wilmer, Evan Crump,
Emily H. Gilson, Mary Miller-Booker. Assistant Director: Ruben Vellekoop . Lighting Design: Colin Dieck . Costume Design: Jane Byrd . Set Construction: Brandon Guilliams . Stage Manager: Kelsey Jenkins . Produced by SeeNoSun Onstage . Reviewed by Dante Atkins.