MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
Nun better: Lucy Martin scores as Sister Aloysius in Syracuse Stage’s Doubt.
Charming and boyish, Father Flynn is
a lineal descendant of those Bing Crosby clerics from director Leo
McCarey comedy-dramas Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary’s
(1945), although actor Brogan looks more like golden-age contract
player Dennis Morgan, bright-eyed and athletic. Not only does Flynn
coach the basketball team, but an in-color basketball set against the
shadow of a crucifix adorns the poster for Doubt.
markers signal director M. Burke Walker’s interpretation at Syracuse
Stage, which contrasts with that of director Heath Cullens’ Doubt at
Ithaca’s Hangar Theatre last summer. Talk to people who saw that
production, and they might tell you they saw a different story. Then
again, as with David Mamet’s Oleanna, two people can go into any
production of Doubt and come out feeling they have seen two different
shows—especially if those two people are male and female.
has always been a clever fellow, but chastened by the failure that
allowed his early success, he’s become quite adept at not showing
what’s in his hand. If you see this play more than once, his teasing of
the audience becomes more apparent. The relevant detail of his having
been expelled from parochial school is always prominent in his bio. Yet
his dedication, faithfully reproduced in the Syracuse Stage program,
praises the many orders of nuns who devoted their lives to serving
others: “Though they have been much maligned and ridiculed, who among
us has been so generous?”
cleverness is palpable in scenes that play one way on stage and come
out quite differently when you step back and hear them in your mind.
The issue driving the narrative is whether Father Flynn has molested a
12-year-old boy, the only African American in the school. His mother,
the well-dressed Mrs. Muller (Laiona Michelle), comes to the all-white
convent office where stern Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Lucy Martin) is
probing implications about the priest and the boy. When the mother
praises the priest for the interest he has taken in her son, we see her
plead for some ambiguity: “Some things are not black and white.” (Not
incidentally, this is the most powerful scene of the production.) Then
the authoritarian white woman, dressed in black, shoots back, “And some
It would be overt praise and
insult to compare Shanley with Chekhov, but like the Russian master,
his dialogue carries with it deep undercurrents of subtext. Each of the
four players shows us what they have with tones, pauses and subtle
reactions to what is said to them. Of these, Sister Aloysius is the
plum: a once married woman who committed unnamed but confessed mortal
sins. She might enjoy making the children uncomfortable, but actress
Martin lets us see that she still cares for them. She is deferential to
authority yet her silent fury drives her to extirpate a superior who
has violated so many codes. Yet she’s a hard woman who speaks of her
suspicions as certainties. This is the best role written for a woman in
the last five years of American drama, and Martin will compel your
heart and head with all she has to give.
supporting role is enriched with the performers’ craft. Brogan’s
glad-handing Father Flynn might hide a streak of slime. Devin Preston’s
Sister James is anything but mousy. And Michelle’s Mrs. Muller’s
bristles with more anger than her good manners will allow.
Herter’s sound design brings up the cold hallways of parochial school.
Katrin Naumann’s costumes restore to the nuns all the dignity and
authority of the pre-Vatican II church. And David Birn’s scenic
designs, together with Phil Monat’s lighting, gives us Sister Aloysius’
office as Edward Hopper might have conceived it. q
This production runs through March 2. See Times Table for information.