TRP’s 2022-2023 season opened last Friday with the type of small intimate drama that is well suited for the space. This looks to be one of the strongest season I can remember for the oldest community theatre in the Twin Cities. They are off to solid start with Doubt: A Parable. A tight 90 minute drama, a play about challenging moral issues on the surface but underneath it’s about how we perceive things, approach them, and how that can alter our capacity to achieve certainty. It’s a superbly crafted script that doesn’t waste a single word, everything has meaning, even if it isn’t apparent in the moment. This is a show to attend with your favorite debater, afterwards there will be some fun “discussions” about what happened, there are likely to be some differences of opinion. If you enjoy a play that makes you think while also entertaining, you’ll find Doubt a rewarding experience. The more you think about and discuss it the more you discover about it.
Doubt: A Parable is the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play winning work from Multi-hyphenate John Patrick Shanley. In it, Sister Aloysius is the principal of a Catholic school who believes that the Priest for the local parish has had an inappropriate relationship with one of the male students. She tells one of the teachers, Sister James, to keep an eye on Father Flynn. This leads Sister James to report something that is very possibly innocent. Sister Aloysius takes this information and though she has no facts to back up her suspicions, she has only her certainty, she attempts to confront Father Flynn and plans to have him removed. Why? The play gives us several explanations, depending on what you perceive to be the truth. It could be because he threatens her outdated ideas of how the church and school should be run and the ways in which to engage with the community and students. It may be because of some small interaction she witnessed that gave her a bad feeling. What’s wonderful about the script is there are so many ways to interpret everything that happens as long as we are open to seeing more than one point of view.
A Parable definition: A usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principleMerriam-Webster website
Within the play one of the characters, Father Flynn, tells a parable during his sermon. It’s short, fictitious, and tries to teach a lesson about not bearing false witness. The play itself, as the title suggests is sort of a parable as well, but it’s the long version. The lesson it tries to illustrate is not as simple or straightforward. It tries to show us that sometimes we can never really know things for certain, and that we have to accept that. We all want to know what is true, but when we become obsessed with it, that very determination can blind us to the real truth. Trying to interpret the play itself is an example of this. As the penultimate scene plays out your idea of what is true changes from moment to moment. And in the final scene, the character who was warned at the beginning that her innocence would make her susceptible to deception is the one who knows what she believes to be true, but does she? The person whose certainty never waivered may be left with doubts about her actions.
The four person cast is led by Miriam Monasch as Sister Aloysius in what is the standout performance. Her timing and exactitude are crucial to establishing her unquestioning dominance over Sister James’ character. She plays it so that we see her characters fierce intelligence and respect it, while also seeing the fallibility of her philosophies. Corey Boe as Father Flynn plays the character as he must in a way that allows us to both believe the best or the worst of him. Kelly Solberg plays the innocence and sublimation to her superior nicely. We can see her love for her job in the early scenes and we watch as she loses that along with her ability to sleep as she is dragged further into the conflicts the accusations create. Finally, Marshonda Austin, while only given one scene as the mother of the boy Father Flynn is accused on interfering with, she makes an impression. It’s a character that is brought in to add another layer of complexity to what at first seems like a straightforward dilema.
Director Kari Steinbach has done a nice job overall, even the one thing that gnawed at me from the opening I’ve sort of talked myself into accepting. I’m not sure if it was direction, script direction, possibly actors choice but in the sermon by Father Flynn that opens the play, he comes out from behind the pulpit during his sermon. That struck me at the time as something a priest in 1963 wouldn’t do. But now I’m thinking that Father Flynn was all about being more welcoming and reaching out to the community, so maybe it isn’t out of place. If you’ve ever been there you know that the stage is not large and surrounded on all sides by the audience. Devyn Becker’s clever set design utilizes the space in such a way that we essentially have three different settings without scene changes other than a podium being wheeled in and out twice.
Doubt runs through October 16th at Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.theatreintheround.org/home/season-placeholder/current_season/doubt/
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