Pulitzer Prize-Winning Drama 'Doubt: A Parable' Opens at New Village Arts
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, October 8, 2023
A cast of four, a single act, and enough doubt - to no surprise - to fill the theatre. After all, that's what John Patrick Shandley's drama is called. Doubt: A Parable doesn't shy away from tough topics: sexual abuse in the Catholic church, the ways in which the church insulates its own, and even the ways that our doubts, fears, past experiences, and judgments manifest in the accusations we lay towards others, whether founded or not. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama will be running at New Village Arts through Oct. 22.
Doubt: A Parable, under the direction of Kristianne Kurner, opens to Father Flynn's earnest, relatable sermon on doubt and his comforting words: "when you are lost, you are not alone." As Father Flynn develops words of instruction, caution, and affirmation for his congregants, he also develops relationships with his young charges, helping them to navigate life on the basketball court and beyond. School principal Sister Aloysius is concerned that the beyond has gone too far. While admittedly more traditional than many of her colleagues, Sister Aloysius is interested in one thing above all others - protecting the students - and so she asks the impressionable and idealistic Sister James, a young teacher still trying to find her way - to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. It is only when Sister James brings concerns forward surrounding her young Black student, the only one at the school, that Sister Aloysius begins down a path of blistering interrogation that will challenge the landscape of faith for all involved.
Leading this production in a fierce and austere performance is Kym Pappas as Sister Aloysius. Her character bears very little humor, yet Pappas' dry delivery and just-under-the-surface tension raise questions about how her life experiences have shaped her into the woman that she is today, but also what experiences have given her such distrust of the priesthood. She is outstanding in this role.
Father Flynn, the accused, seeks a more progressive direction for the church and in his interactions with parishioners, including his students. AJ Knox, warm and entreating in his interactions with others, is an innately likable Father Flynn, which makes the premise of the production even more difficult to swallow.
Also performing in this production are Juliana Scheding as the kindly young Sister James, whose approach to teaching leans closer towards Father Flynn's path than Sister Aloysius', as well as Sherrell M. Tyler as Mrs. Muller, a mother who desperately needs for her son to be safe in a world in which his skin and "inclinations" put him at risk.
Scenic design for Doubt: A Parable, by Christopher Scott Murillo, effectively places the production in a snug Catholic sanctuary, office, and garden. These locations are further enhanced by sound designer Marcus Rico via birds, radio sounds, and other effects, as well as through stained glass windows, upstage glowing, and other lighting elements which create intimacy and tension, thanks to lighting designer Shelby Thach.
Kevane La'Marr Coleman was given the task of outfitting the cast in period apparel that accurately reflects a church school, and has done this well; details like Sister Aloysius' glasses and Sister James' closed toed heels help give these characters personality and substance despite the limitations of their character costumes.
"Are we people... or just convictions?" a character asks at one point in the show; this question, unresolved, is worth the personal examination it will invoke.
Doubt: A Parable plays at New Village Arts through Oct. 22.