February 13-March 8, 2015
Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm; Sundays 2 pm
By John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Daren A.C. Carollo
Adults: $22 in advance, $28 at the door
Youth: $11 in advance, $15 at the door
Discounts for groups of 15 or more
Did he do it or not? This is the question at the core of DOUBT, A PARABLE, the Tony award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play by John Patrick Shanley. When staunchly strict Sister Aloysius learns that charismatic Father Flynn met privately with one of the boys at St. Nicholas Catholic School, she suspects sexual misconduct, which Flynn vigorously denies. The psychological juggernaut then set into motion provides one of the most compelling and unforgettable works of American theater.
SISTER ALOYSIUS………………………..Scarlett Hepworth
FATHER FLYNN……………………………..Steve Rhyne
SISTER JAMES……………………………..Mikkel Simons
MRS. MULLER……………………………….Kimberly Ridgeway
Set design by Kuo-Hao Lo
Scenic painting by Anya Kazimierski
Lighting design by Hamilton Guillén
DOUBT: A Parable – Contra Costa Civic Theatre, Engaging production of Nun vs Priest
Playwright John Patrick Shanley’s scripts for stage and screen are well known (Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Moonstruck, Joe Versus the Volcano) all popular they strike many different chords. You never know if you’ll get funny, sad, talkative, poetical, or quirky. He hasn’t before or since written anything else like DOUBT: A PARABLE, moral thriller about what happens when a Catholic nun principal of a Bronx elementary school in 1964 suspects the young, popular parish priest who comes to teach religion classes and coach basketball. The play won four Tony Awards in 2005, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was a 2008 film starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
DOUBT is a play that grabs hold and doesn’t let go for 90 fast minutes, and Contra Costa Civic Theatre is doing it right. Daren A.C.Carollo, directed his talented four member cast to “wow” Contra Costa fans. Amber Devlin Scarlett Hepworth is Sister Aloysius and Steve Rhyne is Father Brendan Flynn and once these two local pro’s take on these characters its hard not get the power of Shanley’s award winning play.
Sister Aloysius is the principal of St. Nicholas, where the mostly Italian and Irish Catholic students are “uniformly terrified of you,” says Sister James, well played by Mikkel Simons, the green young nun who teaches eighth grade. “Yes. That’s how it works,” says Sister Aloysius. Sister James hopes to befriend and inspire her students, but Sister Aloysius tells her she’s there to be a “fierce moral guardian” and not a buddy. Sister James is more in sync with young Father Flynn, who wants parish families to see priests and nuns as “members of their family.” He talks like a regular guy, in sermons. He’s okay with a secular song or two for the Christmas play.
Sister Aloysius meets with Sister James about her teaching skills, she’s worried about the school’s first “Negro” student, a boy in young Sisters’ class who was singled out for special attention from Father Flynn. Sister Aloysius is old-school. What happens next is an extension of doubt, both on and offstage. Who can we believe. Shanley is great at giving us moments that seem to shine a light on truth, but questioning that in the next scenes and casting us back into confusion. Perhaps, the Father is all that he seems, caring, sociable, progressive. We want to like him. Sister Aloysius’s doubts will only “create something by saying it” and ruin the work of a good man. Even Sister James’ innocence comes under suspicion, what’s more important to her, her own “peace of mind” or her student’s welfare. Shanley treats every one of his characters with compassion, he lets us see the priest’s loneliness, the young sister’s yearning to be loved by her students, the older nun’s struggle to keep the faith with her church and her chosen life.
Hepworth’s Brooklyn accent and poker-faced is perfect as Sister Aloysius, whose occasional flashes of wit hint at a past life she keeps under wraps. As Sister James, Simons does a amazing job of projecting the young nun’s idealism. She’s perfect as she’s pulled back and forth by the opposing argument of Flynn and Aloysius.
The boys mom, Mrs. Muller, played by Kim Rideway begins by sounding small and tentative in the face of Sister’s authority. But as she fights for what her son needs, the role needs more emotion. Steve Rhyne is appealing as the young priest. His down-to-earth warmth makes it hard for us to wonder if there’s something colder, darker to be found. Just as Shanley wants, Father Flynn keeps us guessing.
A view of the principal’s office and courtyard is the play’s single set by designer Kuo Hao Lo. It is filled with detail a heavy black telephone, crucifixes, and a picture of the pope. Outside, a courtyard in winter, with bare rose bushes. Lisa Danz, costumes are precise and right.
Shanley’s script is a tour de force of doubts never quite resolved. It works as a detective story, and as a commentary on issues we struggle with today. In the end, it is a look at the value of doubt itself, perhaps as an antidote to the unshakable uncertainty.
CCCT fine production of this Tony winner is excellent and welcomed back to the Bay Area. A note about the original production was homebred in SF under the banner of SHN’s producer Carol Shorenstein Hays.
Doubt: A Parable
by Adam Brinklow from Edge Media Network
It was Friday the 13th and the play was called “Doubt,” surely that qualifies as a troubling omen? Talk about opening night pressure.
Inauspicious dates aside, “Doubt” is a hell of a play. It won the Pulitzer 10 years ago, and 15 minutes into this Contra Costa Civic Theatre production you can already tell it wasn’t a pity vote. It’s 1964 in a recently integrated Bronx Catholic school, where Father Flynn (Steve Rhyne) is the genial, compassionate, forward-thinking parish priest and Sister Aloysius (Scarlett Hepworth) is the principal, a steely disciplinarian with integrity and savvy but all the warmth and charm of an expired parking meter.
The two are about as compatible as hairspray and open flames as it is, but then Sister Aloysius gets a tip from another nun that Father Flynn might — just might — be taking advantage of an 8th grade boy in that way certain priests are known to do. True to its title, the play never tips us off definitively as to whether he actually did it. Is the good Father wrongfully accused by way of a political vendetta, or is the sister the only one sharp enough to see through him?
At first it seems easy to tell where our own sympathies will lie. Rhyne plays such an inoffensive, likable shepherd type that he can even find the bright side in the Kennedy assassination and not sound like he’s bullshitting you. Hepworth plays a bloodless gorgon who treats her students like felons. He’s a nurturing mentor with the kids and a feel-good showman at the pulpit, while she acts like a grizzled platoon sergeant trying to drive everyone else through the trenches. But of course, it wouldn’t be much of a play if it didn’t give us reasons to start trusting her and doubting (there’s that word again) him as it winds along.
Rhyne makes a good martyr: anxious, frustrated, quietly angry but too conscious of it to really own it. His character might be guilty after all, but he acts like someone unjustly accused and clearly really believes it, and that’s compelling. Hepworth is a step behind: She’s good at being wry and cagey, but when it’s time for her to be determined or incensed she sounds a bit affected. Still, she does sell the play’s unsettling and unexpected final lines.
But the standout in this production is Mikkel Simons playing a younger nun caught between the two leads. Even though it seems she has a weaker part on paper, Simons has a remarkably crushed and distraught demeanor that’s a little scary in a wonderful way.
We’re not sure how many San Francisco theatergoers entertain the idea of trekking all the way out to El Cerrito, but CCCT really is good, and worth the trip. Smart people with good taste are in charge over there. “Doubt” is their strongest offering of the season so far, and it’s such a commanding, startling, dauntless play to begin with that any chance to see it merits your time.