Power of Faith Shaken in Chamber’s “Doubt”

Colleen Madden and Marcus Truschinski in “Doubt” at Milwaukee Chamber theater

Accusation vs. Denial. Truth vs. Falsehood. Joy vs. Sorrow. Red state vs. Blue state. Offense vs. Defense.

I pledge, until death!

Those bitterest of rivalries are at the heart of “Doubt:A Parable,” the John Patrick Shanley Pulitzer Prize winning play opened over the weekend at Milwaukee Chamber theater.

On the surface Shanley’s searing drama is a tale of a Roman Catholic school administration  torn apart by a priest accused of sexual misconduct with a young boy and a savvy nun determined to expose him.

But today, 14 years after it was written, it has become much more relevant and meaningful than it was when it ran on Broadway.  

In this time of “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” the world of accusation has taken on the mantle of righteous virtue while the burden of denial is often matched by the virulence of the charge. What we have, in some cases at least, is an equal outrageousness that, as the battle escalates, becomes ever more intrenched and intractable by the parties.

“Doubt” is the story of St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx, a school presided over by Sister Aloysius (Colleen Madden) , a non-nonsense latecomer to the faith of both her black habit and unshakable committment to her way of doing things.

In a conference with a teacher, Sister James (April Paul), Sister Aloysius asks about a new boy in school, 12-year old Donald Muller, the first black boy in at St. Nicholas.  She is concerned that he not be placed in a difficult position. She asks Sister James whether anyone has bullied the boy and the sister replies that nobody has because Donald has a “protector” in Father Flynn.

Sister Aloysius: What have you seen?
Sister James: I don’t know.
Sister Aloysius: What have you seen?
Sister James: He tood Donald to the rectory.
Sister Aloysius: What for?
Sister James: A talk.
Sister Aloysius: Alone?
Sister James: Yes.
Sister Aloysius: When
Sister James: A week ago.
Sister Aloysius: Why didn’t you tell me
Sister James: I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. It never came into my mind…that he…that there could be anything wrong.
Sister Aloysius: Of all the children, Donald muller. I suppose it makes sense.
Sister James: How does it make sense?
Sister Aloysius: He’s isolated. The little sheep lagging behind. This is the one the wolf goes for.

And so it begins. The rumor. The gossip. The circumstance. The conviction. The claim. The machinations and lies. The confrontation. The aghast denial. The pursuit of one version of the truth.

Flynn is horrified at the accusation. He’s outraged, defensive and immediately asserts his canonical rights over a mere nun in a convent. His denial only fuels the pursuit of blame for Sister Aloysius. Sister James is a bystander, torn and tossed by the waves of uncertainty, of doubt.

The curse of doubt eventually is the envelope that shrouds both sides and that doubt proves as debilitating as the passionate adherence to one half of the argument.

This play, directed by C. Michael Wright, is graced with a powerhouse cast that creates a pace that becomes ever more frantic.

Ms. Madden and Mr. Truschinski, both core company members at American Players Theatre, clearly appreciate the value of style and restraint. She is fully in grip of the worldly yet cloistered woman, in touch with both reality and her fantasies.

Mr. Truschinski continues his growth into an actor of incredible breadth and skill. Each time I see him on a stage he shows his remarkable ability to dig deep beneath the surface of a character to find things that make his people fully realized.

Ms. Paul is both certain of her love for teaching and children and unresolved about both the guidance of Sister Aloysius and her pursuit of guilt.

Malkia Stampley does a small turn as Donald Muller’s mother, called to the principal’s office to discuss the suspicions of Father flynn. Ms. Stampley is the trigger for this production to shift into high gear and her seething anger mixed with her unshaken loyalty to her child are a catalyst for the inevitable collision.

Mr. Wright has smartly allowed this production to roam into places Mr. Shanley never intended and his crucial understanding makes for a night when doubt is proven to cause more pain than resolution.

Production Credits: Director: C. Michael Wright; Stage Manager, Judy Martel; Scenic Designer, Steve Barnes; Costume Designer, Kim Instenes; Lighting Designer, David Gipson; Sound Designer, Victoria Delorio; Propmaster, Madelyn Yee; Dialect Coach, Raeleen McMillion; Production Photographer, Paul Ruffalo.

About davebegel@gmail.com

Theater Critic in Milwaukee.
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