Around The Town

Doubt: A Parable is Definitively Not to Miss

By: Iris Wiener

April 11, 2024: Just as powerful as it was when it debuted in 2005, Broadway’s current production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt has stood the test of time well. This is great for the play, but its unfortunate themes are more relevant than ever. It is 964, and a nun comes to the conclusion that a priest at her parochial school is molesting one of the students; however, there is scant evidence, leaving the audience to be the judge of the validity of the accusation. Having won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tony Awards (including Best Play), there is no “doubt” that the piece is exceptional on the page. Here are five reasons why it is equally phenomenal on the stage:

By: Iris Wiener

April 11, 2024: Just as powerful as it was when it debuted in 2005, Broadway’s current production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt has stood the test of time well. This is great for the play, but its unfortunate themes are more relevant than ever. It is 964, and a nun comes to the conclusion that a priest at her parochial school is molesting one of the students; however, there is scant evidence, leaving the audience to be the judge of the validity of the accusation. Having won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tony Awards (including Best Play), there is no “doubt” that the piece is exceptional on the page. Here are five reasons why it is equally phenomenal on the stage:

1.    John Patrick Shanley’s writing is exquisite in the methods by which it makes audiences question their own sensibilities and their eagerness and/or ease with jumping to conclusions. Doubt is consumed with conflicts centered on truth, but there is enough tension based on world views (tinged with generational and gender issues) to keep everyone guessing. Amy Ryan’s Sister Aloysius plays beyond her years (and searingly well in her stoic refusal to change her outlook), a last minute casting choice that could have garnered various results when Tyne Daly had to leave the production due to medical reasons. The writing transcends any setbacks tenfold.

2.    Liev Schreiber is perfectly cast as Father Flynn, who seems to be giving special attention to Donald Muller, the only “Negro” student under his tutelage. Though he’s a bit older than the age for which the role was initially intended, Schreiber’s affable stature is subtle; you want to root for him, but one can’t help but see (or imagine?) a brusqueness beneath Father Flynn’s veneer. Schreiber’s performance (after that of Brian F. O’Byrne’s Broadway origination and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s 2008 filmic turn) raises the bar for future iterations of Doubt

3.    David Rockwell’s shadowy, looming set, is as imposing as it is thoughtful. The Gothic structures are enveloping, immediately drawing audiences into its fold (which is imperative, as the play is only 90 minutes). The stony, ivy-covered courtyard, which can be glimpsed from the pane-glass window of Sister Aloysius’ mahogany office (and becomes the center point of the play when the set shifts on a strategically placed turntable), is indicative of the hard reality audiences are left with at the finale. 

4.    Scott Ellis’ direction is nuanced in its simplicity, a dichotomy fitting for a piece that leaves audiences contemplating their every thought. You never feel his work because his artistic vision is so natural, never expanding upon the necessary to make the revival leave an impactful mark. Though in the same space, the quartet of actors complement one another in the most succinct ways as they expound Shanley’s words through Ellis’ intelligent lens.

5. Though the roles of Sister Aloysius and Mrs. Muller (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) are the most oft-applauded and validated, it bears mention that Zoe Kazan’s young teacher, Sister James, is a scene-stealer herself. As she works to become accustomed to Sister Aloysius’ heavy-handed discipline, Kazan adds doe-eyed levity. As she carefully navigates her principal’s staunch ideals (she hates everything from ballpoint pens, to long fingernails, to Christmas carols), Kazan is an effectively fun foil in an otherwise tense drama. 

Liev Schreiber (Father Flynn) and Zoe Kazan ( Sister James). Photo: Joan Marcus