“Doubt: A Parable” will open Friday at Durango Arts Center. It will run only two weekends and will close with a matinee performance Feb. 24.
Chances are you’ve seen the 2008 movie starring Meryl Street and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Chances are you may have seen a production of the original play after it won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway the same year. Since then, John Patrick Shanley’s riveting play about conflicting viewpoints has been translated into dozens of languages and performed all over the world.
“Doubt: A Parable” has been on Mona Wood-Patterson’s wish list for a very long time.
“For more than a dozen years, I’ve been waiting for a chance to stage it,” Wood-Patterson said. “I thought about it when I was at Durango High School, but it wasn’t appropriate then for a lot of reasons. Back in 2005, ‘Doubt’ swept all the drama awards, and now, finally, it’s the right time to present it here in Durango with Merely Players.”
Set in the tumultuous 1960s, “Doubt” centers on a struggle between Sister Aloysius (Maureen May), principal of St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx, and Father Flynn (Jason Lythgoe), a young priest recently assigned to the church and school.
Sister Aloysius is a World War II widow who entered religious service late with a lifetime of experience and loss behind her. She believes in strictly adhering to rules and the dictates of the church. Father Flynn is from the next generation with an entirely different world view. It is he who opens the play with an invitation to confront any doubts in one’s life and share them with others in the St. Nicholas community.
Playwright Shanley alternates pointed monologues with compelling conversations between the sister and the priest in which their world views clash. What’s at stake is a troubling accusation and suspicion of possible misbehavior by Flynn with a new student.
Sister James (Rebecca Sloan), an idealistic young nun, triggers the conflict, and Mrs. Muller (Sharina Ramsey), brings an entirely different outlook to the core dilemma.
The year, 1964, is important to the play, the fulcrum of a convulsive decade. “Doubt” is set one year after America reeled in disbelief over the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the country’s first Catholic president. Conspiracy theories flooded the airwaves, and the Warren Commission countered rumors by examining the facts.
The civil rights movement unmasked racial hypocrisy everywhere, and key legislation marked a dividing line in the nation’s history. In the middle of all this, winds of religious change blew in from Europe to alter both practice and belief. The Second Vatican Council shook the rigid foundations of the Catholic Church and created long overdue reforms.
All of those fractures lie underneath Shanley’s brilliantly written play and continue to resonate today. The Catholic Church, and recently a Protestant denomination, is under continuing scrutiny for abusive behavior toward children. The daily debate between fact and fiction continues in politics at every level.
In Shanley’s preface to the play, he argues that “deep down, under the chatter, we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know … anything. But nobody’s willing to say that.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.