Sometimes we have instinctual feelings, even though we don’t have solid evidence to prove our suspicions. If we stay true to our instincts, we’re showing strength by sticking to our conviction. The flipside is, that in order to do this we need to ignore doubt. What’s the wiser thing to do? Sticking to your conviction or acknowledging doubt? That’s the premise of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play, Doubt: A Parable, which Seven Tyrants Theatre has skillfully mounted.
The stakes are high in this psychological drama. The story is set in 1964 within a Catholic church-run school in the Bronx, New York. At the start of the play, we see school principal, Sister Aloysius, trying to harden-up a young, naïve teacher, Sister James, who teaches adolescents. We’re also introduced to a charismatic young priest, Father Brendan Flynn. It’s not long before we discover that Sister Aloysius has suspicions regarding possible sexual misconduct between Father Flynn and one of the male students in Sister James’ class.
Although she has no proof, Sister Aloysius is on a mission to bring down Father Flynn. And for the remainder of the play, we’re left asking ourselves whether we side with Sister Aloysius’ instincts, or if the plausible doubt in this case should absolve Father Flynn.
I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, weighing each word of dialogue and evaluating every piece of information, as I pondered the situation. Tallulah Winkelman delivers a roaring performance as Sister Aloysius – I would not want to get on her bad side. Her portrayal of the hardened nun is the definition of unwavering conviction. Every time I had my “doubts” about the situation, she strong-armed me back onto her side.
But on the other hand, David Thomas Newham is very charming as Father Flynn, and I really wanted to believe everything he said. His stage presence is quite endearing – he makes you want to support him, while at the same time he has a slight gleam in his eye, as if to say, “there’s something I know that no one else knows”. Newham’s charismatic yet secretive persona is the perfect counterpart to Winkelman’s powerhouse portrayal of Sister Aloysius.
Olivia Lang is well suited for young Sister James. Watching her refreshing innocence and urge to please everyone is like sniffing coffee beans in between sampling perfume/cologne, etc. – it clears your palate so you have a chance of analyzing the situation. A surprising twist in the story happens when Liza Huget enters the stage as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy whom Father Flynn is accused of abusing. Huget’s fierce conviction is so strong that it matches Winkelman’s, and it makes for an incredibly intense scene between the two women, each battling for their own cause.
Director Bill Devine has done an excellent job directing the cast – their movements and choices are completely character-driven and keep our attention focused on the story. There are three different settings throughout the play. And as such, Devine has staged the show in the style of a three-ring circus – three different scenes set up in three different focal points across the stage, eliminating any need for scene changes. During blackouts between scenes, there’s always interesting vocal jazz music that transitions into intimidating church music – perhaps reflecting the personalities of Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius.
The intimacy of the small theatre is perfect for the show. You feel like you’re right in the story, as the actors perform inches away from you. It personally made me feel more emotionally invested than if I was sitting in a standard-sized theatre.
Seven Tyrants Theatre’s production of Doubt: A Parable is a very compelling journey that will keep you contemplating the story long after you’ve left the theatre. It’s clear why this play has won Pulitzer and Tony Awards. What a treat it is to see a brilliant play of this calibre presented so well, thanks to Seven Tyrants Theatre.
Seven Tyrants Theatre’s production of Doubt: A Parable plays runs until December 14 at Tyrant Studios. For more information, visit Seven Tyrant Theatre’s website.