John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable is a tightly written play that explores several universal themes including righteousness and self-righteousness, justice and mercy, naïveté and cynicism, and more.
Dramaworks’ award-winning director, J. Barry Lewis, on loan to the Maltz for this production, has pulled together the 4-person cast into a tightly knit ensemble of true professionals executing their craft beautifully and rightly earning the standing ovation the audience gave them when the play was done.
The action is set in a fictional St. Nicholas high school in the Bronx in 1964, just a few months after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of that year. Vatican II had convened in 1963 and was still underway. And America suffered a loss of innocence with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the nation’s first Roman Catholic president.
The second wave of American feminism had begun but women were still mostly second class citizens in America and nuns in the Catholic Church were probably even more so. Propriety and chain-of-command often stifled the sisters as was pointed out in the play.
And alas, the 60s saw or, perhaps chose not to see, the rampant sexual abuse that is today causing such distress in the church – not to mention the Boy Scouts and other institutions where power corrupts adults and their young victims often suffer in silence – even when the victim may “be that way,” according to the victim’s mother.
Jim Ballard who debuted at the Maltz with this production made a great Father Flynn, effectively changing from the boy’s team’s coach and ‘buddy,’ inviting the students to the rectory, to patriarchal dismissal of the nuns to fear to pleading for Sister Aloysius’ compassion, which she assured him was “Some place where you’ll never find it.”
Maureen Anderman as Sister Aloysius, is wonderful as the rigid principal of the school – so tightly in command that she knows the students by their names and by their foibles and capabilities. The acid of her self-righteousness and her delivery of biting lines could make a bitter drag queen jealous.
Karen Stephens, also debuting at the Maltz played the role of Mrs. Muller, the mother of Donald Muller, the first African/American student at St. Nicholas. Although her role was small, it was pivotal to the development of the play, and her delivery was on target – if, perhaps, just a little too intense for a black woman in 1964.
Sister James, played by Julie Kleiner, also seemed a bit ahead of her time with passionate outbursts that a 1964 superior probably would not have abided – especially one as rigid as Sister Aloysius. Nevertheless, the overall affect and the young nun’s interaction with both the principal and the priest helped point out the strengths and weaknesses of those characters’ positions.
Did the priest do something untoward to the young African/American student? Did he take advantage of the child as Sister Aloysius asserted, or was he merely trying to befriend the outsider youth and help him integrate into the all-white environment? These are questions that audience members will have to decide for themselves. Arguments can be made for both sides.
The play is beautifully presented and well worth. Everyone involved in the play helped earn the audience’s jump-to-your-feet appraisal but particular kudos go to Timothy Mackabee, scenic designer and lighting designer Paul Black.
The sets were magnificent and glided silently to and from center stage accompanied by orchestrated lighting producing an almost ethereal effect.
The theater is located at 1001 East Indiantown Road, Jupiter, Florida. Take the Indiantown Exit from I-95 and proceed due east over the Intracoastal. It’s on the left.
The play runs through February 17. Shows start at 7:30. For a complete schedule and tickets, call 561-575-2223 or visit www.jupitertheatre.org.