Dates 11 September - 12 October 2008 Venue The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
Director Rachel Ditor, Set and Costume Design Alison Green, Lighting Gerald King Stage Management Caryn Fehr & Rachel Bland Roberts
Reviewer John Jane
When artistic managing director, Bill Millerd stepped out in front of the stage to announce the start of the Arts Club’s 45th season, there were cheers and applause from the audience. And certainly, they could not have chosen a more hugely satisfying pièce de théâtre to open their new season.
Set in a parochial school in the Bronx in the mid-sixties, Doubt is played out as a battle for the moral high ground between the severe, autarchic Sister Aloysius and the lenient and far more personable Father Flynn. But while Doubt relates the troubling question of an inappropriate relationship, the storyline is almost incidental.
In the opening scene, it is Father Flynn’s homiletic sermon, delivered through a simple parable that addresses the courage of maintaining one’s conviction, which lays out the play’s complex themes. It’s a message that would ironically offer comfort to his antagonist’s dubious, though perhaps well-intentioned actions.
Over the course of this ninety minute, single act play, Sister Aloysius shows single-minded determination to do (what she believes is) the right thing without regard of cost to herself or anyone else. She deems it to be acceptable to hurt the innocent, rather than allow the guilty to proceed unhindered.
Gabrielle Rose is indomitable as Sister Aloysius; playing the senior nun as someone who has absolute conviction in her own suspicions. She never asks, nor does she receive empathy for her character - she moves through Doubt like an icy wind.
Jonathon Young, on the other hand draws sympathy for his character. Perhaps too much if the audience is expected to participate in a “guilty or not guilty” guessing game. His portrayal of Father Flynn as a modern-thinking, blue-collar priest, scarcely gives any credence to him being a child molester.
Sasa Brown gives an ambiguous performance as the malleable younger nun, Sister James. Her teaching philosophy is closer to that of Father Flynn, yet looks upon Sister Aloysius as a mentor. She waffles between believing in the more charismatic priest and following the powerful conviction of her principal. Brown skilfully allows her character to embody the play’s moral compass offering a voice of reason and common sense.
Michèle Lonsdale Smith has the smallest role, that of Mrs Muller, the mother of the child in centre of the storm. Smith does well with this “small, but pivotal role,” effecting one of the play’s truly unsettling moments.
Doubt is not without its moments of humour. The subtle triple-speak between the two nuns brought tentative laughter from the typically accepting, opening night audience.
Alison Green’s imposing set splits the stage between the austerity of a church courtyard and the irksome confines of the principal’s office. Her ecclesiastical costumes are indicative of time and place and bring a certain quality to the production.
To his credit, John Patrick Shanley casts no aspersions on either the priesthood or the Catholic Church, he does however, provide a vehicle to examine and question the purpose of our institutions with a keener eye.
© 2008 John Jane