Reviews

Doubt: A Parable *****

By: Paulanne Simmons

March 13, 2024Ever since John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable opened on Broadway in 2005, it has been a centerpiece for ambiguity in theater. Whether people see Doubt on screen or on stage, they come away wondering or arguing about the major questions: Did the priest have an improper relationship with Donald Muller, an altar boy and the school’s first Black student? Did he give Donald wine to drink? Did he let Donald take the blame for stealing the wine?

Amy Ryan (Sister Aloysius), Zoe Kazan (Sister James), and Liev Schreiber (Father Flynn).

By: Paulanne Simmons

March 13, 2024: Ever since John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable opened on Broadway in 2005, it has been a centerpiece for ambiguity in theater. Whether people see Doubt on screen or on stage, they come away wondering or arguing about the major questions: Did the priest have an improper relationship with Donald Muller, an altar boy and the school’s first Black student? Did he give Donald wine to drink? Did he let Donald take the blame for stealing the wine?

So is it with the current revival at the Todd Haimes Theatre, brilliantly directed by Scott Ellis and starring an exceptional cast of Liev Schreiber, Amy Ryan, Zoe Kazan and Quincy Tyler Bernstine.

Liev Schreiber (Father Flynn) and Zoe Kazan ( Sister James).

However, although Zoe Kazon is excellent as the meek and unsure Sister James, Schreiber is commanding as the threatening, whining and cajoling Father Flynn and Quincy Tyler Bernstine is heartbreaking as Donald’s embattled and embittered mother, who fears her son will pay the price no matter what the result of the investigation, it is Amy Ryan as Sister Aloysius who steals the show.

In a highly nuanced performance, Ryan makes Sister Aloysius autocratic and unyielding, but also vulnerable, caring – and yes – funny. (She says nuns stumbling over their habits look like falling dominoes.) As the widow of a soldier killed in World War II, she has loved and suffered loss. When she took her vows, she shut the door to her old life and entered unflinchingly into the new one.

Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius are not only at loggerheads over his relationship with Donald. They also have radically different views on how to run the Catholic school Sister Aloysius presides over as principal.

Amy Ryan (Sister Aloysius) and Zoe Kazan (Sister James).

Sister Aloysius believes the faculty should remain distant and distinguished in the eyes of the students and their parents, who live in  poor Irish and Italian neighborhoods. Father Flynn thinks the church should present a warmer, more compassionate face to the parishioners. She thinks dance, art and music are a waste of time. He coaches the basketball team and gives the male students advice on how to become men.

Set designer David Rockwell uses turntables effectively to present both the inside and outside of the church and the majesty of the chapel. And sound designer Mikaal Sulaiman’s ominous birds let us know that evil lurks in unexpected places.

Liev Schreiber (Father Flynn) and Amy Ryan (Sister Aloysius).

In many ways Father Flynn may appear to be the more likeable character. After all, this is 1964, and The Second Vatican Council has permitted the use of vernacular languages at mass and allowed priests to turn towards the congregation to pray with them. Father Flynn is the voice of the future. But when he quickly asserts his authority as a man and a priest, threatening Sister Aloysius and intimidating Sister James, he reveals the bully who hides under his nice guy persona.

Even if Father Flynn is not guilty, perhaps we should still be concerned with how easily he not only escapes scrutiny but actually gets himself promoted.

Doubt: A Parable *****
Todd Haimes Theatre
227 West 42 Street
Through April 21, 2024
Running time: 90 mins. with no intermission. roundabouttheatre.org.
Photography: Joan Marcus