Though “Doubt: A Parable” differs greatly from any recent production at Cedarville, opening night was sold out and the intimate and sensitive storyline conveyed excellently.
Senior Simon Yeh started off the performance playing despairing music on the clarinet, lit only by a single light. All eyes were on him, just a few inches away, really, from the audience.
“Doubt” is performed in thrust format, meaning that the audience sits in raised rows on three sides of the stage so that those in the first row are just inches from the cast at any time. The music’s tone, full theatre, dim lighting and proximity of the audience to the action gave the show an intimate feel and yielded a quieter, more focused audience.
The play begins with Father Flynn (David Widder-Varhegyi) – a priest at a 1960s Catholic school – giving a sermon about despair.
“Doubt can be a bond as powerful as certainty,” he says. “When you are lost, you are not alone.”
And so, the audience is introduced to doubt – questioning, uncertainty – right off the bat.
The audience is then introduced to a nun who is certain about everything – at least until the final scene – and a nun who lacks confidence. Sister Aloysius (Madison Hart), the principal of the Catholic school, is a rigid and stoic nun who has an answer for everything and essentially answers to no one. Stuck in her old ways of traditional Catholicism, she is skeptical of anyone who thinks or acts differently than her. Sister James (Emma Kowatch), who teaches eighth grade at the school, is young, innocent and timid, though enthusiastic about teaching. Sister James is essentially the foil character of Sister Aloysius in both age and action.
In addition to the contrast between certainty and uncertainty, “Doubt” also displays a contrast between traditional and modern mindsets. Sister Aloysius holds fast to a traditional mindset and is ruffled by students using ballpoint pens – it makes them lazy; Father Flynn’s suggestion to add “Frosty the Snowman” into the annual Christmas pageant – it blurs the lines of being set apart; adding sugar to tea – it’s too much of an indulgence; Father Flynn preaching sermons in parables – speaking truth directly is the right way; and Father Flynn’s long, clean fingernails – short nails would be better.
Father Flynn, who holds a much more modern mindset, is ready to drop the legalistic ideals of Catholicism and befriend the community.
However, by the first mention of Father Flynn’s name in the show, Sister Aloysius is already questioning his actions and has instructed Sister James to come to her when she, too, begins questioning Father Flynn’s actions.
And Sister James does come. She comes with news that Father Flynn has “taken an interest” in Donald Mueller, the school’s first and only African-American student, since Donald Mueller joined the altar boys. But unlike Sister Aloysius who immediately begins a campaign against Father Flynn for his inappropriate behavior, Sister James is uncomfortable about rushing to conclusions.
“It’s so unsettling to look at people with such suspicion,” Sister James says.
And since Sister Aloysius doesn’t think well of the Monseigneur – Father Flynn’s boss – she decides to take things into her own hands.
“We’re going to have to stop (Father Flynn) ourselves,” she says.
And so goes the rest of the play. Sister Aloysius resorts to deceit, cunning language and harsh words to get Father Flynn to confess his wrongdoing. And, as Father Flynn is no superhuman, it hurts him.
“I feel as if my reputation has been damaged through no fault of my own,” Father Flynn says.
Sister Aloysius even goes so far as to bring Donald Mueller’s mother, played by Raven Simmons, into her office for no purpose other than to continue her campaign against Father Flynn.
“You’re bringing my son into your righteous tiff with the priest,” Mrs. Mueller says.
And a righteous tiff it is.
“You had a fundamental mistrust of me before this incident,” Father Flynn says to Sister Aloysius. “Whatever I have done I have left in the hands of my confessor as have you. We are the same.”
Yet nothing Father Flynn says – short of a confession – will push Sister Aloysius off her track to remove Father Flynn from the school.
As Sister Aloysius campaigns against Father Flynn, she has many heated arguments – deafening and heart-breaking – with the other three characters. The most passionate is with Father Flynn himself who neglects his priestly character for that one scene.
Hart presented her hardened character well – almost to the point of being despised by Father Flynn, the school’s children and audience members equally. Not once did Hart smile, though her character had fun with a bit of stoic sarcasm, which returned laughs from the audience and broke up the mentally draining storyline.
Widder-Varhegyi meshed his usual comical antics and expressions with the subject matter of “Doubt,” again adding a bit of comic relief – though not flippantly – to a serious play. Simmons and Kowatch also embodied their characters well. Though just a 95 minute play without intermission, the time the cast has spent learning and becoming their characters is evident.
The four-person cast truly makes the audience think about what truth and doubt entail and the consequences of spreading rumors. Each word spoken seems to have mile-deep meanings. Fitting for the play’s title, there’s not much certainty in the play. What one thinks is true another may think just a coincidence or completely wrong.
And with the nature of the show, there’s many biblical themes explored – confession, forgiveness, belief, faith, truth, obedience and sin.
Sister Aloysius attempts to justify her spiteful campaign against Father Flynn to Sister James who never really becomes confident in her belief.
“In the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God,” Sister Aloysius says.
“Doubt” is very much an introspective show. You may have no words for what you encounter, but you’ll not forget the play soon.
Remaining performances are 10 a.m. March 26, 8 p.m. March 27, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 28, and 3 p.m. March 29 in Cedarville’s DeVries Theatre.
Anna Dembowski is a junior journalism major and managing editor/arts & entertainment editor for Cedars. She likes nearly anything that is the color purple and enjoys spelling the word “agathokakological.”