With the crisis of pedophilia in the priesthood as solidly in the headlines today as in 2003, Doubt: A Parable at Studio Theater is as complex and relevant now as when it debuted fifteen years ago. How does one prove the unprovable? What’s the correct course in an everybody-loses situation? When does a quest to do the right thing cross into blind crusade? In a nation squared off into opposing echo chambers of certainty, where people shun debate and discourse, the lessons of John Patrick Stanley’s parable are more relevant than ever.
Set in 1964 at a Bronx Catholic School, Doubt unpicks the knotty discomfort of moral certitude. On one side is severe, rigid Sister Aloysius (DC favorite Sarah Marshall), an exquisite exaggeration of every knuckle-rapping nun stereotype, preaching tradition and authoritarianism. Students must be taught fear and respect; change is bad. In the opposite corner is charismatic young Father Brendan Flynn (Christian Conn), a popular, progressive believer in reform and a modern “friendlier” Catholic Church. He advocates personal, emotional rapport with students. Their battleground is the chaos created by the Second Vatican Council’s reforms and the changing political and civil landscape of 1964 America, embodied in the physical storm that batters the school throughout the conflict.
At issue, whether Father Flynn’s closeness with the school’s first black student has crossed an inappropriate line. Sister Aloysius has no doubt, but is intuition and suspicion sufficient to justify her certainty? Is she protecting her innocent charges, or waging a zealous turf war for relevance and dominion? Flynn offers plausible denials, but who can watch the debate uncolored by knowledge of the Church’s imminent scandalous implosion. Caught between the two are naïve nun Sister James (Amelia Pedlow), and the boy’s mother (Tiffany M. Thompson).
The performances are solid, but the strength of the play lies in the script. Director Matt Torney offers a clean production, enhanced by Wade Laboissonniere’s mid- Century costumes and Daniel Conway’s austere Gothic set. Little distracts from the storm of distrust, rectitude, and uncertainty swirling onstage. Don’t miss this durable Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning drama about faith, ambiguity, and the price of moral conviction. You may not get the answers, but the questions are worth asking, and, as Shanley suggests, it’s good to experience Doubt.
Doubt: A Parable is playing at the Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC through October 13, 2019. Running time: 1 hour and 35 minutes, no intermission. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 332-3300, or click here.