Review: Strong cast confronts challenges of ‘Doubt’

01/27/2012 6:30 PM |
North Fork Community Theatre

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Alan Stewart (from left), Marilee Scheer and Becca Mincieli in a scene from John Patrick Shanley's 'Doube: A Parable.'

“When in doubt, abstain.” Thus spake Zoroaster in 700 B.C.

“Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy.” So said John Patrick Shanley in 2004.

The playwright chose “doubt,” that place between belief and disbelief, certainty or distrust, for the title and theme of his darkly funny Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play set in 1964.

Doubt
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue Jan. 27 and 28, Feb. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m.; Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 at 2:30 p.m. The Jan. 28 performance is followed by a talk-back with director and cast.
For tickets, visit nfct.com or call 298-6328.

The plot dramatizes the balance of power between Sister Aloysius (Marilee Scheer), a nun who is certain even if truth is not, and Father Flynn (Alan Stewart), a young priest whom she suspects of molesting one of her students. The battle is between the fierce, forbidding school principal and the priest who preaches love and who wants to be believed. As written, they crash into each other, their perception clouded by paranoia like two semis blinded by fog on the expressway.

The clash on the Mattituck stage, while perfectly functional, attractive and well turned-out, lacks the combustion of human anxiety and urgency.

The excellent Marilee Scheer continues to amaze and delight with her ability to feel and project the heart of each one of the varied characters she plays. Alan Stewart is a skillful director as well as actor, but somehow the struggle between them is never death-defying. As film folk say, “The chemistry is wrong.”

Or perhaps the role of Father Flynn is not written as clearly as one might wish. Mr. Shanley’s writing was enormously successful with the ebullient screwball comedy “Moonstruck,” for which he won an Oscar. It seems less so in this subversive narrative. His old-fashioned storytelling is as clear and direct as Arthur Miller’s and as full of local color as Horton Foote’s. But it never has the poetry of Tennessee Williams or the musicality of August Wilson, and for all the wonderful prose in the world, it is the poets who shape our lives.

One of the great satisfactions for the audience at this production is the appearance Deborah Morgenstern, who plays the mother of the boy who may or may not have been involved to some degree with Father Flynn. In just one scene, this actress presents a whole woman, integrity intact, and we know her and care what happens to her.

The other role in the cast is the self-effacing Sister James, whose nature is to submit to Sister Aloysius in all things. When the principal asks what class she is teaching, Sister James answers, “Art,” and suffers a bull’s-eye put-down, “Waste of time!” Rebecca Mincieli has the challenge of being yes-woman to her boss and at the same time projecting a person in her own right.

One of the play’s themes is the treatment of women’s lack of power in the Roman Catholic Church and Ms. Scheer handles this beautifully. So does Mr. Shanley, who also hints that what led to the church’s scandals regarding young boys was the “doubt” people had about what was right and what was wrong.

We are all familiar with the fear and/or courage involved in making decisions, in taking sides and the irrevocability of certain choices. The play “Doubt” helps us understand and, like all really good theater, allows us to see we are not alone.

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