ARLINGTON The script is filled with uncertainties, but there is nothing doubtful about the quality of Theatre Arlington’s fine production of Doubt, A Parable, the troubling religious drama by John Patrick Shanley that opened March 28.
The primary adversaries in this 2004 play, which won a Pulitzer and best play Tony in 2005 and was made into a 2008 film starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, are an imposing and strong-willed Catholic school principal, Sister Aloysius (Amber Devlin), and her priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Aaron Roberts). Set in the Bronx in 1964, the plot involves a child at the school whom Sister Aloysius believes is being sexually molested by Father Flynn, a charge he adamantly denies.
But doubts arise.
There are many wild punches thrown in this black-robed boxing match. But the swings that do find their mark deal devastating damage.
Caught in the middle of this war is Sister James (Camille Monae), a young teacher at the school who is not sure whose corner she should be in. The battling parties pursue her support with the same ferocity they display in going for one another’s throats.
This superbly crafted play gives the audience a lot to chew on. It reveals itself slowly and carefully, taking detours down several dark paths along its way. It keeps us guessing and, better still, thinking from its opening speech to its last.
Devlin is as cold as the other side of the pillow as the hard-edged Sister Aloysius. She is so good that it seems she would blow any co-star right off the stage. But Roberts, who enhances his character with a nicely understated regional accent, proves to be a worthy foil for Devlin. The heat their confrontations generate threatens to engulf the theater in flames of damnation.
Monae is sometimes a bit overmatched by the demands of her difficult role. But she succeeds in conveying the fear and confusion of her character, a new teacher at the school who is terribly browbeat by the imperious Sister Aloysius, and thoroughly wins our sympathy.
One of the unexpected pleasures of this production is the performance by La’ Netia D. Taylor in the relatively small role of Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy at the center of the dispute. Her character, and performance, bloom before our very eyes in an intense exchange with the stern sister, who is completely incapable of understanding Mrs. Muller’s complicated situation.
Tony Curtis’ cozy set design, which realizes two locations (an office and a garden), is exceptionally clean, correct and beautifully efficient, as is Juan Gonzalez’s lighting plan, which keeps things so well defined.
Much the same could be said for Emily Scott Banks’ lean and mean direction, which makes this single-act, 85-minute gem move like a bullet train.
On the whole, this production is yet another example of Theatre Arlington’s continuing growth as a company that tosses off light, entertaining comedies with ease, but is also capable of delivering powerful, thought-provoking dramas like this one. Whether you have seen the film version of this play or not, you are almost certain to feel the visceral impact of the tangled emotions this well-told story elicits.