Saturday, 8 April 2006

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley, MTC, April 8, 2006

 Doubt by John Patrick Shanley
by Sydney Theatre Company presented by Melbourne Theatre Company
 Playhouse Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, April 8 to May 13, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 8, 2006

We know now that, in decades past, Catholic priests abused children, that the children did not report the abuse, that suspicion was diverted and priests were moved from parish to parish to avoid repercussions.

Evidence was, and still is, difficult to provide or confirm “beyond a reasonable doubt,” so priests escaped earthly if not divine retribution.

John Patrick Shanley’s crisp, witty and provocative play, Doubt, provides no certainty. Two of its characters may feel free of doubt but we are left with the aftermath of suspicion, hearsay and the sinking feeling that accompanies deception.

Doubt is a masterly theatrical construction of a moral dilemma, the plot cunningly created from smoke and mirrors. It is not epic but, rather, an intimate Socratic argument.

Christopher Gabardi is vibrant and compelling as Father Flynn,  the exuberant and athletic young priest appointed to the parish of St. Nicholas. He is a devotee of the liberal changes wrought by the Vatican II Council.

Jennifer Flowers is superbly laconic and wry as Sister Aloysius, the cold, determined and domineering head of St. Nicholas’ school and a member of the teaching order of the Sisters of Charity although charity is not her strong suit and Vatican II is disrupting her entrenched view of the Church.

Flowers is totally credible as the resentful, intelligent and possibly misguided nun, frustrated by her powerlessness in the face of the changing church and the ruling male clergy.

Her subordinate is Sister James (Alison Bell), a compassionate and naïve young teaching nun made vulnerable by suspicions planted, with dubious motivation, by Sister Aloysius. Bell has the cosy warmth of that rare nun who genuinely cares about teaching and children.

Any reputation is tarnished irreparably by the insidious undermining of the jealous, ambitious and resentful, or even by the well-meaning.

Sister Aloysius’ determination that Father Flynn is behaving inappropriately with an eight-year-old boy is founded on tissue-thin evidence, flimsy observations and wild assumptions that she presents as certainties. She is a dangerous animal, even using the boy’s mother (Pamela Jikiemi OK) in her vendetta. Everyone is vulnerable in the face of her heartless accusations and acerbic jibes.

Director, Julian Meyrick, keeps the focus on the relationships and arguments. Designer, Stephen Curtis’s brutal stone convent wall dwarfs the characters while the interior of Sister Aloysius’ office confines them under her control.

Doubt compels one to question one’s own “certainties”.

By Kate Herbert

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